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The Music of the Bard: Words & Music of Shakespeare in the Park 1956-1967

September 16 @ 7:00 pm - 8:15 pm EDT

David Amram and Gail Papp

Joe Papp and David Amram rehearsing King John

“We have public libraries. Why not public theaters?” said Joseph Papp, facing down Robert Moses, New York City’s infamous “power broker,” when the New York Theater Workshop was just two years old. This year marks the 70th birthday of what became Shakespeare in the Park, which we celebrate with David Amram who, from 1956 to 1967, composed the music for 25 productions of its productions. Gail Merrifield Papp, Joe’s widow and theatrical partner for 25 years, will be among the friends joining him for this unique evening.

Amram had recently arrived in  New York and was living in the East Village, composing classical music as well as performing with some of the great names in jazz, when Papp called to ask if he’d compose the music for Titus Andronicus, presented at the Emmanuel Presbyterian Church in 1956. The following summer, he was appointed composer and musical director, an association beginning with Romeo and Juliet. The score was completed in just eighteen hours – for no money! The New York Shakespeare Workshop was by then touring parks and playgrounds across the five boroughs, the stage and set transported by a retrofitted Department of Sanitation truck that got stuck on the grass in Central Park. Joe claimed squatter’s rights and there, on a temporary stage, presented Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and Two Gentlemen of Verona. Shakespeare in the Park was born.

The Music of the Bard: Words & Music of Shakespeare in the Park 1956-1967 honors Joe Papp’s visionary endeavour and the founding of The Public Theater in the old Astor Library, which had been the City’s first free public library. At the same time, it honors David Amram’s remarkable contribution to Joe’s marriage of theater and civic responsibility – and David’s own belief in music and civic responsibility. Both men believed that arts make the world a better place.

Selections from David’s music for Shakespeare in the Park, as well as selections from his opera 12th Night which he composed to Papp’s libretto, will be sung by Michael Kelly and Adira Amram, with Yaron Gershovsky at the piano. Actors will speak some of Joe’s favorite soliloquies, and Gail Merrifield Papp will reminisce and read from her recent memoir Public/Private: My Life with Joe Papp at The Public Theater.

Ticket booking coming soon.

[Image: Joe Papp and David Amram rehearsing King John ]


September 16
7:00 pm - 8:15 pm EDT
Event Category:


The Public Theater at Joe’s Pub
425 Lafayette Street (at Astor Place) NY NY 10003 United States + Google Map