Algonquin Wits Return to the Algonquin as Downtown Hit Talk of the Town Moves to the Oak Room

By Robert Simonson
May 15, 2005

The Peccadillo Theater Company's world premiere of the original musical The Talk of the Town will feel very much at home on May 23 when the downtown Manhattan hit moves into its new quarters: The Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room.The show tells the tale of the literary friendships and rivalries among the members of the Algonquin Round Table—a conclave which haunted its namesake hotel in the 1910s and 1920s.

The Talk of the Town will begin performances on May 23 at 8:30 PM and will continue on every Monday through Aug. 22. Tickets are $55 with a two drink minimum and may be purchased by calling (212) 840-6800.

The show began its initial run Off-Broadway Nov. 4, 2004. In a bit of a switch for the Peccadillo, which specializes in reclaiming lost plays by early American dramatists, Town is a new play about a few of the writers who penned some of those plays—as well as others who merely reviewed said entertainments.

Characters include Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, George S. Kaufman and Alexander Woollcott, a crowd known for its ready and often devastating wit. The title of the play comes from the name of a column in The New Yorker, which was created by another Algonquin wiseacre, publisher Harold Ross.

The Algonquin Round Table arose late in the second decade of the 20th century when a press agent turned powerful drama critic Woollcott onto the charms of the Algonquin Hotel's Rose Room. Woollcott began inviting his friends to the dining hall. They included Vanity Fair writers Parker and Benchley, New York Times drama editor and playwright Kaufman, novelist Edna Ferber, New York World columnist and labor leader Heywood Broun, playwright Robert Sherwood and popular columnist Franklin P. Adams. Occasional joiners included actors Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, a young Tallulah Bankhead, short story writer Ring Lardner, comedian Harpo Marx and Broun's wife Ruth Hale.

Since most of the members worked for newspapers, the quips and goings-on of the circle quickly became copy, particularly in Adams' widely-read "The Conning Tower." The lunch gatherings were famous by the early '20s. The clique was variously known as "The Vicious Circle" and "The Poison Squad." Algonquin manager Frank Case, an admirer of writers, provided the group with free food and its own special large round table. The male members of the circle often met in hotel rooms on the upper floors to play poker.

The Round Table faded in the years following the stock market crash. By the mid-30s, it had ceased to exist. The era was depicted in the 1994 film "Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle."

Ginny Redington and Tom Dawes wrote the book, music and lyrics. Redington has written songs for Gladys Knight and Sarah Vaughan. Dawes was a member of the rock group The Cyrkle (best known for their Paul Simon composed hit "Red Rubber Ball"). He also produced a number of records for other artists, including Foghat.

Peccadillo artistic director Dan Wackerman directs. The choreographer is Mercedes Ellington, whose credits include the Broadway musical Play On!. The music director is Jeffrey Biering.


The Roundtable and its literary set were also central to the musical, At Wit's End, seen in Florida and Chicago.