It wasn’t until the late 1700s when theater on this particular street in New York City became a substantial existence. Over the next two hundred and sixty years this street has become a major tourist destination and a dream maker for many aspiring performers, writers, composers, and producers.
We would like to take a look at a few theaters that decorate this infamous street and investigate a little bit into their backgrounds. With more than forty to check out and only so many words to use, we will only be looking at a few.
1. Ambassador Theatre
One interesting fact about this Broadway theater is that architect Herbert J. Krapp designed it to sit on a diagonal angle on its location to optimize the amount of seats it could fit. Today it is considered a landmark in New York. Opening night was held on February 11, 1921 with The Rose Girl.
The original owners, the Shuberts, a major theatrical producing company, sold the theater in 1935 and for the next twenty years or so this space was used to film television shows for NBC and the DuMont Television Network. The Shuberts bought the Ambassador back in 1956 and once again, the Ambassador Theatre was used for live theatre.
Some works that have made their way through the Ambassador are Godspell, Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk, a revival of Dreamgirls. Currently Chicago is playing at the Ambassador and has been since 2003.
2. Booth Theatre
Some of the most notable shows to grace the stage of this legendary Broadway theater include The Elephant Man, Hughie, An Act of God, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, and Sunday in the Park with George. The building that holds the Booth Theatre isn’t’ the original. The first theatre to hold this name was actually owned by Edwin Booth.
This name might sound familiar and that is because Edwin Booth is the brother of John Wilkes Booth, the man who murdered the 16th President of the United States Abraham Lincoln. It is a fact that both Booth brothers were actors, even the one who assassinated the president.
Edwin Booth was the owner of the original building and the owners of the new location decided to keep the name. It was planned alongside the Shubert Theatre. The design, which positions the two theatres with backs to each other, was designed to resemble a Venetian Renaissance style exterior. The new theater premiered in 1913 and the 783 attendees, a packed house, was treated to The Great Adventure.
3. The Imperial Theatre
This theater, also owned by the Shubert Organization, seats over 1400 people. The Lyric Theater used to sit at this location but it became old and the idea was to create a theater that would be specifically for musical theatre productions. Mary Jane McKane is the show that was performed on Christmas Day in 1923, the day The Imperial Theatre opened.
The talent that this stage has hosted is immense. Some of the greatest composers of musical theatre have worked in this house including Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Stephen Sondheim, and George and Ira Gershwin. Of course, it stands with reason that the talent that has graced the stage at The Imperial is just as impressive. Past performers include Mary Boland, Ethel Merman, Bernadette Peters, Hugh Jackman, Lucie and Desi Arnaz, and John Lithgow.
Some of the popular productions to be given at this theater are Fiddler on the Roof, Les Misérables, Dreamgirls, and Annie Get Your Gun.
4. Neil Simon Theatre
Originally named the Alvin Theatre, this theatrical space was first named for Alex Aarons and Vinton Freedly by fusing the first letters of their first names. These men were successful producers in their day. The Alvin Theatre opened its doors in November of 1927 with a production of Funny Face, a musical by the Gershwin brothers. It starred Fred and Adele Astaire.
Famous musical performances by Ethel Merman, Lucille Ball, and Liza Minelli were given at the Alvin Theatre. Yet, in 1977, when the Nederlander Organization purchased the Alvin, it was renamed for Broadway legend Neil Simon. They furthered their show of respect to the prolific American Playwright by opening the theater with a production of Brighton Beach Memoirs and continued with a staging of Biloxi Blues.
5. The Cadillac Winter Garden Theatre
The Winter Garden was the vision of William Kissam Vanderbilt near the turn of the twentieth century. It was created to be an American Horse Exchange. About fifteen years later the building was leased to none other than the Shuberts who had it redesigned to be a theatre. This location though, was the fourth building to be given this name.
La Belle Paree by Jerome Kern was the first musical to appear at this Winter Garden opening the theater in March of 1911. Al Jolson debuted and went on to become the legend he is, returning several times to perform on its stage. It went through a remodeling in 1922 and it seats more than 1500 audience members. At one time there was a runway the projected out into the audience and Jolson was known to slide down it on his knees exciting audiences.
The legendary long running production of Cats opened at The Winter Garden in 1982 and ran nearly 7,500 performances. Due to the type of show Cats was, the theatre was torn up and given an alley/junkyard field. When it closed the theatre was again remodeled and restored to its original look.
Famous performers to play The Winter Garden include Fanny Brice, Bob Hope, Gypsy Rose Lee, Buddy Ebsen, and Josephine Baker. Liza Minelli performed her Tony Award winning concert here in 1974.
6. Studio 54
In 1927 this building opened its doors as the Gallo Opera House and went on to take new monikers regularly. At one time it served as a radio and television station for CBS. After this, in 1977, the building was named Studio 54 and became the infamous nightclub we have seen in movies and read about in books. The parties held at this nightclub are the stuff of legend.
It remained a nightclub until 1991. Seven years after they shut down Studio 54 became a place where the Roundabout Theatre Company would perform. This came to be when a construction hoist fell and blocked the Henry Miller Theatre while a revival of Cabaret was being staged by the Roundabout. They moved to Studio 54 and in 2003 they company purchased the building. Cabaret ran until 2004.
During the hiatus between nightclub and theatre, Studio 54 was also the location of some great live concerts including Gloria Gaynor and Sister Sledge. Interesting facts about this building is that it in 1965 Spector Records offices and warehouse space was here and the New York based group The Velvet Underground & Nico recorded an album here in 1966.
Current productions at Studio 54 by the Roundabout Theater Company are Holiday Inn by Irving Berlin, The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov, and Love Love Love by Mike Bartlett.
The company that performs here, Roundabout, was founded in 1965 and held their original performances in the basement of a supermarket. They now have five stages to perform in either on or off Broadway and are considered one of New York’s most prestigious theater companies.
Here is a list of the 10 longest running Broadway shows of all time: check it out!