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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (musical)

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a musical with a book by George Abbott and Betty Smith, lyrics by Dorothy Fields, and music by Arthur Schwartz.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Original Cast Recording
Music Arthur Schwartz
Lyrics Dorothy Fields
Book George Abbott
Betty Smith
Basis Betty Smith's novel
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (novel)
Productions 1951 Broadway

First produced in 1951, the musical is based on Smith's autobiographical novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943), but when Shirley Booth was cast as Aunt Cissy, a secondary character in the novel, the prominence of this role was expanded and tailored to Booth's comedic talents, diminishing the relative importance of other characters, in particular young Francie, through whose eyes the plot of the novel unfolds.



After two previews, the Broadway production, directed by Abbott and choreographed by Herbert Ross, opened on April 19, 1951, at the Alvin Theatre, where it ran for 267 performances. In addition to Booth, the cast included Johnny Johnston as Johnny, Marcia Van Dyke as Katie, and Nomi Mitty as Francie. Van Dyke was honored with a Theatre World Award. The musical director was Max Goberman.[1]

Booth's performance proved to be both an asset and detriment to the production, since it was an audience pleaser but detracted from what should have been the story's primary focus, the struggles faced by Johnny and Katie as their marriage slowly crumbles.[2] Frank Rizzo, in Variety, gave his opinion about the failure of the original production: "The musical’s failure was largely blamed on a script too tailored to accommodate the comic talents of Shirley Booth, in what was essentially a supporting role. But the show ... made other missteps. The arrival of the book’s most appealing character — young Francie Nolan — was unnecessarily delayed, and an elaborate nightmare Halloween ballet in the second act, depicting the final descent of her goodhearted but alcoholic father Johnny Nolan, was a mistake."[3]

Goodspeed Opera House mounted a revised production relegating Aunt Cissy to a supporting role in 2003.[4][5]

An Encores! staged concert production at New York City Center in 2005 starred Emily Skinner as Cissy, Jason Danieley as Johnny and Sally Murphy as Katie.[6]

A cast recording of the original production is available on a compact disc released by Sony.


The musical tells of the working-class Nolan family (Johnny, Katie and Francie) at the turn of the 20th century in Brooklyn, New York. The father, Johnny, is an optimistic but undependable singing waiter who spends his paycheck in the neighborhood saloon. His hard-working wife Katie is a disappointed realist weary from years of broken promises, daughter Francie idolizes her father, and Aunt Cissy is the victim of a string of romantic misadventures with common-law husbands, each of which she insists on calling "Harry" after her first lover.



  1. ^ "Max Goberman" IBDB.
  2. ^ Details about this production are told for the first time in Love Is The Reason For It All...The Shirley Booth Story by Jim Manago, with radio research by Donna Manago, and foreword by Ted Key. BearManor Media, ISBN 978-1-59393-146-9.
  3. ^ Rizzo, Frank. "Review: 'A Tree Grows in Brooklyn' " Variety, November 6, 2003
  4. ^ Jones, Kenneth. "Make the Man Love Me: Goodspeed's Revised 'Tree Grows in Brooklyn' Sprouts Oct. 10 at Goodspeed" Playbill, October 10, 2003, retrieved January 16, 2017
  5. ^ Miller, Marc. "Review. 'A Tree Grows in Brooklyn' ", November 2003
  6. ^ Rooney, David. "Review: 'A Tree Grows in Brooklyn' " Variety, February 13, 2005

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