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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

 

Herbert Levin Herbert Levin performing as Nivelli
Inspired by a true story, Nivelli's War is a brand new play about an unlikely friendship forged between a Holocaust survivor and a German evacuee in the aftermath of World War II. Though the events of Nivelli's War are largely fictional, the play draws inspiration from two concentration camp survivors, Herbert Levin and Werner Reich, whose lives were both saved by just a few, simple card tricks.

At the dawn of WWII, Herbert Levin was a magician known throughout Germany as "Nivelli," yet he was captured and imprisoned in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Rumors quickly began to spread of a magician in the concentration camp, and Nazi soldiers soon summoned him to perform tricks for them, day and night. To help his bunkmates entertain their guards—thereby saving their lives—Levin taught a number of them simple magic tricks, including one young boy, Werner Reich. 

"Yes, Herbert Levin started something in me. That first explained trick had a huge impact on my life," says Mr. Reich, who's alive today and lives on Long Island.
 
Both Levin and Reich survived the Holocaust and eventually emigrated to the United States. Levin resumed his career as Nivelli and Reich pursued a lifelong interest in magic. Many years later, upon reading Levin's obituary, Reich learned that his friend was none other than the famous Nivelli.
 

 

Herbert Levin Werner Reich shows the identification number tattooed onto his arm when he was a prisoner at Auschwitz concentration camp.
"I was reading the obituaries. I see Herbert Levin had died. He had been in Auschwitz and was known as The Magician of the Holocaust. I noticed his number was close to mine–his was #A1676 and mine is #A1828." He realized, "That's the guy, the very guy," who saved him from death with a card trick. 

"I was inspired from the moment I heard the story of Herbert Levin. This tale of a man using all of his power to fight for survival took my breath away," says Nivelli's War director Paul Bosco Mc Eneaney, founder and artistic director of Cahoots NI. 

Experience this moving story about the magic of friendship. Nivelli's War is playing from April 28-May 7 at The New Victory Theater. Get your tickets today!
 
 
Nivellil's War Brought to the stage by Cahoots NI, Northern Ireland’s premier children's theater company, in association with the Lyric Theatre, Belfast, Nivelli's War tells the fictional story of Ernst. As a young boy evacuated from Frankfurt, Germany, Ernst finds himself alone with no idea how to return home at the end of the war. When all seems lost, a mysterious stranger who knows the true value of magic comes to his aid. As they travel together through a war-torn world, these two survivors become each other’s ally, protector and confidant.


 
Posted by Beth Henderson
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