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

From season to season, we love being able to invite artists back to The New Victory, but no artist has presented as much work on our stage as Dr. Rennie Harris. He has been here four times before between 1999 and 2013, and this month Dr. Harris returns for his fifth show with us: LUV: AMERICAN-STYLE. To get ourselves in the hip hop mood, let's take a look back at some of these past appearances and recall what else was going on in the world!

Rennie Harris Puremovement – February 26–28, 1999

Rennie Harris PuremovementDr. Harris first visited The New Victory sixteen years ago in February 1999 with his award-winning company, Rennie Harris Puremovement. At the time, the company was already in its seventh year, performing a variety of innovative pieces showcasing the trajectory of hip hop dance. Some of these, like Endangered Species and Students of the Asphalt Jungle, are now among the company's signature works, and even then were they the subject of years' worth of critical praise from Seattle to Sheboygan to New York. 

In the late '90s, Dance Magazine profiled Dr. Harris and Puremovement repeatedly, calling Harris "the freshest, most creative imagination in the house, with an output that is nothing short of amazing," and congratulating Puremovement's dancers on their ability to "make the popping, spinning, breaking, locking, dueling, high-energy, virtuosic vocabulary of hip-hop into completely viable theatrical art." We were as excited to present Dr. Harris then as we are to welcome him back now, because nothing's changed: he's as creative and prolific as ever, and the acclaim keeps on coming.

Now let's think back to that distant year, 1999! The New Victory presented Rennie Harris Puremovement that February. What else was happening back then?
February 1999 • Pluto (still a planet at the time) becomes the ninth furthest planet from the sun again, as its eccentric orbit crosses Neptune's.
• TLC releases their third album FanMail after a five-year hiatus, and it spends the next five weeks at #1.
• Colin Prescot and Andy Elson circumnavigate the globe in a hot air balloon and set a new world record.

Rennie Harris' Legends of Hip-Hop – November 12–28, 2004

Rennie Harris' Legends of Hip-HopWhen Dr. Harris returned to the New Victory five years later, in November 2004, it was with this showcase tribute to the pioneers of hip hop. Dancers from Rennie Harris Puremovement and other, younger companies shared the stage with legendary artists from the 1970s: Don Campbell, originator of the Campbellock; Boogaloo Sam and the Electric Boogaloos, also of early West Coast hip hop fame; The Untouchables, from Harris's native Philadelphia; the Rock Steady Crew, representing NYC's contributions to the art form; and so many others. At the time, Dr. Harris's goal was "to honor the pioneers of specific hip-hop dance styles, have them collaborate with and inform younger dancers, and to learn about hip-hop culture from some of the seminal figures in its development."

While the Legends of Hip-Hop were here, The New York Times noted that the show was "an offshoot" of Harris's Illadelph Legends of Hip-Hop Festival. The Festival continues to this day, bringing these early hip hop trailblazers together with students and younger dancers in a series of master classes and workshops. This mission to preserve and share hip hop's history was (and is) central to much of Harris's work, especially, as the Times noted, during a time when hip hop dance was being "relegated to television commercials," focusing on quantity and flash over quality and innovation. Not so when the dance and its architects take center stage!

So what else was going on in November 2004?
November 2004 • The Nintendo DS is released in the U.S.
• Iceland's sub-glacial Grímsvötn volcano erupts.
• Spain makes solar panels mandatory for all new and renovated buildings.

Rennie Harris' New York Legends of Hip Hop – October 6–22, 2006

Rennie Harris' New York Legends of Hip HopFrom the streets of the Bronx to the four corners of the globe, hip hop had taken the world by storm by the time Dr. Harris returned to The New Victory in 2006. Like the 2004 show, New York Legends of Hip Hop showcased living legends from the art form's early days. This time, though, the focus was on New York! Pop Master Fabel and the Bronx-born Rock Steady Crew, Brooklyn marvels The Mop Top Crew and an all-star roster of young dancers and beatboxers teamed up onstage in a celebration that The New York Sun called "unfiltered hip-hop dancing at its most expansive and proud." I wish I could have been there!

It feels like just yesterday that these October 2006 events took place.
October 2006 • Ban Ki-Moon succeeds Kofi Annan as U.N. Secretary-General. 
• Google announces that it is acquiring YouTube.
• Bob Barker announces his retirement from The Price is Right.
• Scientists fully sequence the genome of the honeybee.

Rennie Harris: RHAW — May 14–26, 2013

Rennie Harris RHAWIn 2007, Dr. Harris founded RHAW (Rennie Harris Awe-Inspiring Works), a second company to meet the demand from younger dancers interested in joining Rennie Harris Puremovement. RHAW is a training ground focussed on mentoring young dancers in technique, professionalism and dance and theater etiquette. In the words of Dr. Harris, "Artistically, RHAW's choreographic works are less complex than the first company [Puremovement]. RHAW prides itself on going back to the basics of street dance and presenting works that are reflective of its original movement vocabulary and aesthetic."

As they pop, lock, balance and flip to the music of Queen and Michael Jackson, you'd be forgiven for thinking that RHAW's dancers are veteran professionals. Their visit to The New Victory in 2013 played to sold-out crowds of awestruck kids and families and earned critical praise for their artistic variety. "They don't settle for eliciting gasps," The New York Times observed. "There is more to them, that is, than showing off. The vocabulary embraces not just the full historical panoply of hip-hop styles but also salsa, tap and vernacular moves dating back nearly a century." They're not just kids dancing on stage—they're a new generation of artists, blooming under the wing of hip hop's greatest choreographer.

Do you remember these goings-on from May 2013?
May 2013 • Brazil becomes the fifteenth nation to legalize marriage equality.
• After nine seasons, The Office airs its final episode.
• Russian scientists discover a perfectly preserved woolly mammoth.

LUV: American-Style — May 8–17, 2015

LUV: American-Style thumbnailAnd now we come to today. This month, RHAW and Dr. Harris return with LUV: AMERICAN-STYLE. Where Harris's first four visits to The New Victory were showcases of various dance pieces, LUV is a single piece of theater with dance woven throughout, portraying one young man's struggle with identity, love and justice. It's a wonderful fifth chapter in Dr. Harris's New Victory story, a perfect marriage of theatricality and powerful, youthful dance. Don't miss it!

Feeling like dancing? Have some family fun and explore the three laws of hip hop dance with our Family Activity!

You can also learn more about the history and terminology of hip hop here.
Posted by Zack Ramadan