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New Victory Blog

The New Victory Blog is a place to learn more about New York’s theater for families and the shows we produce. Find out what we do and what we’re passionate about—exploring the arts as a family.

Flo Wolston stands out for her glamour and poise, but behind the perfectly done makeup, she is a veritable treasure trove of New York City history. During the 1930s, she saw the rise and inevitable fall of Minsky's Republic. Does that name sounds familiar? Before it became The New Victory Theater, the theater had many names.

In the 1930s, Billy Minsky opened Broadway's first burlesque club, naming our beloved theater Minsky's Republic. The theater facade featured a bold checkerboard pattern with the faces of Minsky's biggest stars, including Gypsy Rose Lee. Inside, black-tie attire was strictly required. Doormen were dressed as French cavalrymen, and the female ushers wore French maid costumes and squirted perfume on patrons as they entered. And famously, down the center of the orchestra, was a double runway that put Minksy's showgirls, including Ms. Wolston, as close to the patrons as possible. 

As she celebrates her 100th birthday on Friday, August 25, we look back with her to a time of a jazz-filled Midtown, after-hours clubs with Liberace, and the perfect corned beef sandwich on rye. Start up a playlist of days long gone and wish Flo a happy birthday with us, here at The New Victory Theater!

Flo on the Marquee!
 
Flo in her 20s
What is the biggest way New York has changed since your time as a Minsky's dancer?
There are less delis, no booking agents and too many big syndicates to count. TV has really changed live entertainment. For instance, there used to be a bunch of small jazz clubs on 52nd St. Now, you can only find large venues in Midtown. 

What was your favorite song to perform to? 
My favorite artist back then was Robert Alda, and I always looked forward to dancing to "Stairway To The Stars" and "Stay In My Arms Cinderella." 

Was 42nd Street as crowded and busy in the 1930s as it is today?
Yes, 42nd St was always this busy. It hasn't changed. I love seeing the theater still in use!

How did the Great Depression affect Minsky's Republic?
The Great Depression didn't affect Minsky's at all. Back then, tickets were only 35 cents, 50 cents and $1.

Minsky's BurlesqueDid you ever meet any celebrities?
I didn't meet any celebrities at Minksy's. But after it closed I worked with Jackie Gleason at La Conga and met actor Ray Milland and his wife. At the after-hours club Spivey's Roof, I became friends with Liberace who you could find playing the piano there most nights. 

Where are you from? What did your family say when you moved here and started performing at Minsky's?
I was born in Philly and moved to NYC when I was four-years-old. I earned $50 a week (about $900 today), so my family didn't mind that I worked at Minksy's at all. In fact, my dad would stop backstage to visit me, and my uncle would even catch a show from time to time. 

What was your favorite place to eat while you worked on 42nd Street? Is it still there?
My favorite place to eat was at the Stage Door Deli on 47th Street near the Gaiety Theater. It's no longer there, but I always used to get a corned beef sandwich with mustard on rye.

What was your audience like? 
Audience members at that time were mostly men. People assume that the audience was wild but, in fact, you couldn't be rowdy or you'd be thrown out immediately. It was all very well controlled. 

Flo WolstonHow was the experience of attending a show different in the 30s compared to today?
Well, the prices today are ridiculous. Also, I miss seeing tap dancing and toe dancing (pointe). You don't see that in most shows anymore. 

What was your reaction to Mayor LaGuardia shutting down Minsky's? Do you think it was the right call?
I was in disbelief when Mayor LaGuardia shut down Minsky's. Absolutely devastated. It took away a steady paycheck, which was not a good time for us performers. Looking at all of the risque entertainment that exists today, I can honestly say it never should have closed.

Tell us about your favorite costume! 
I didn't have a favorite costume. We just wore sparkly underwear!
 
 
The New Victory Theater Discover more about the history of The New Victory Theater here!

 

Posted by Beth Henderson

In Nivelli's War, the young, German Ernst is sent away by his mother to ensure his safety during WWII. At the end of the war, Ernst encounters Mr. H, a Jewish Holocaust survivor, who agrees to help the boy return home. Although their differences initially divide them, the two form a strong bond that changes the course of Ernst's life. We spoke to the director of this powerful story, Paul Bosco Mc Eneaney. 

 

Paul Bosco Mc Eneaney Paul Bosco Mc Eneaney at work
How did you develop Nivelli's War?

Developing Nivelli's War was all about the strong working relationship between the idea that I wanted, and Charlie Way's inspirational writing. Charlie's work is extremely dense and deep in terms of research and thoughtfulness. I got the script, and then I pulled on all my theatrical resources. Aesthetics, look, feel, all of that. Eventually, things came together, and I'm so proud of the result.  

The character, Mr. H, is loosely inspired by Herbert Levin—Nivelli, or the "Magician of the Holocaust." Though you were not aware of it when you first began work on the show, a young man—Werner Reich—was held captive with Levin in Auschwitz-Birkenau and Levin taught him a number of magic tricks—just like Mr. H teaches Ernst. How did you find that connection to the story?

You're right, the Werner Reich connection came really late, long after the show had opened.  In 2014 I discovered a book called The Death Camp Magicians, which detailed the relationship between Werner and Herbert Levin. I wrote an email to the publishers of the book, letting them know that it was an incredibly illuminating read. Then out of the blue, I received a correspondence from Werner. I almost fell out of my chair! Hearing his story was profoundly inspiring.

Can you connect the show to current events?

Absolutely! You just have to look towards Syria, and you can see the connection to Nivelli's War. Tragically, there are many Ernsts and Mr. Hs in the world right now—evacuees trying to piece together their world after suffering through unimaginable circumstances. 

What has been the most inspiring audience reaction to your work?

There's a moment in the show where the audience physically starts to lean forward. The story is so inviting that it demands you lean forward and actively listen. For me, that's when I get really inspired. When I see a young audience member leaning forward—their eyes glued to the stage—that's my favorite moment.

 

Mr. H and Ernst Mr. H comforting Ernst with a trick
What moment in the show are you most excited for New York audiences to see?

With this show, the audience suddenly realizes that the events we're talking about didn't happen centuries ago. We're talking about a tragedy that people, like Werner, have lived through. Similar events are happening now. There are still children that find themselves in Ernst's shoes. I'm thrilled that New Yorkers are going to get to see those connections so, perhaps, they can empathize with people fighting through those circumstances today.

What's the one thing you want audiences to walk away from the show thinking?

I want them to walk away and think. My goal isn't to make them think about any single thing—it's just to make them think. Some of the best theatrical moments happen on the trip home, when families have a conversation, or when teachers start to work with kids to unpack what they've just seen. For me, it's about how a kid or an adult discovers a new layer to something, and what that means to them in that moment.

How did you find your start in theater?

I actually started out as a drummer. My band and I did three tours in the United States when I was only 17 or 18. Then, I was bit by the acting bug and performed on the stage for many years.  When I was asked to write a piece for a festival back home in Northern Ireland, I fell into theater for young audiences. Eventually, I ended up writing a piece and to get funding for it, I needed to start a company—hence, Cahoots NI was born!

Do you have one tourist destination that you’ll be checking out while in New York City?

My son is very excited to see the Statue of Liberty, so on Saturday we're doing a tour! The Statue of Liberty was the first site many Irish immigrants saw on their way to Ellis Island. I’m very keen to explore that connection. 
 
 
Nivelli's War Experience Nivelli's War with your whole family. Tickets are on sale today!
 
Posted by Beth Henderson
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