Remembering James M. Nederlander (31 March 1922 – 25 July 2016).
Michael Darvell pays his respects to a great man of the entertainment world and traces the history of a remarkable company.
It is no wonder that Broadway and the West End dimmed their lights on 3 August in memory of James M. Nederlander who has died aged 94.
He was chairman of the Nederlander Organisation which is one of the largest theatre owners and producers in the world. The company was founded in 1912 by James father David T. Nederlander (1886-1967). At present, it has nine theatres in New York, having previously owned a further four, plus 15 throughout the US including Arizona, Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, Santa Barbara, Chicago, Detroit, Durham (North Carolina) and North Charleston.
In its time it has also operated another 30 or more. In London it has the Adelphi, the Aldwych and the Dominion Theatres. Without the work of the Nederlander Organisation, the entertainment worlds of the USA and London would be in a very sorry state indeed.
James’ father, David T. Nederlander bought his first property in 1905 in Detroit, the Fisher Theatre, which the family still owns. Of the five sons and one daughter in the family, James, having left his law studies behind, was the first to join the family firm. He initially assisted on a production of Moss Hart’s Winged Victory on Broadway in 1943 where he made many useful contacts. He worked with his father until David died in 1967. Then he and his brothers began an expansion programme, buying some ten theatres in New York alone and formed partnerships with many theatre producers such as David Merrick, Alexander Cohen and Emanuel Azenberg.
The company, still owned and run by its founders, has over the last 30 years staged more than 100 Broadway and touring productions, plays, musicals, opera, ballet and concerts by world-famous artists, thus demonstrating their belief in public entertainment of the highest standards.
Among the musicals James M. Nederlander and his team have been involved with are Annie, Camelot, Cats, Chicago, Fiddler On the Roof, Grease, Hello, Dolly!, La Cage aux Folles, Legally Blonde, Me and My Girl, Nine, Oliver!, Peter Pan, Sweet Charity, West Side Story, The Will Rogers Follies, Woman of the Year, and more recently Spiderman, School of Rock, Kinky Boots, and the revival of Evita.
Among the plays they have produced are Michael Frayn’s Noises Off, Benefactors and Copenhagen, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, the RSC’s Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and many more besides. Their list of productions over the past three decades resembles a history of the American theatre writ large, and it is basically because of the vision of one man, James M. Nederlander and the passion for theatre he inherited from his father.
Apart from theatre productions, the Nederlander Organisation has staged umpteen concerts by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Billy Joel, Paul McCartney, Pink Floyd, The Police, Adele, Jimmy Buffet and U2. It has welcomed overseas arts companies such as Rudolf Nureyev, the Bolshoi Ballet, the Moiseyev Ballet, the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, the Georgian State Dance Company, Ballet Folklorico and the Peking Opera among many others. James M. Nederlander and his son James L. Nederlander have supported many diverse arts organisations and in 2000 established the National High School Musical Award, known as ‘The Jimmy Award’, which acknowledges outstanding high school musical productions across the US.
It is encouraging to know that following the death of James M. Nederlander the family firm will go on supporting theatre, music, dance and opera in the same way that James’ father initiated over a century ago. There are still many members of the family to keep the shows on the road and, no doubt, future generations of the family will continue to serve the theatre in the best ways that they can – with the great passion that remains undimmed in a company now well into its second century.