For people who aren’t familiar with Broadway, the word conjures an image of a large lit up street with just a few popular theaters on it. In reality, the majority of the 41 theaters commonly referred to as “Broadway theaters” aren’t even on the avenue of Broadway. With that many theaters, there is a massive amount of history and fascinating stories to be told. Here are 5 of the most unique theaters that call Broadway home.
1. The Lyceum Theater
Of all the Broadway theaters, the Lyceum takes the cake for having the most years under its belt. In fact, the Lyceum is the oldest continually running theater in all of New York. Producer and manager Daniel Frohman had the theater built in 1903. The Lyceum is so old that when it was built, their cooling system consisted of air pushed over ice rooms in the summer and during the winter hot steam coils warmed the air. This climate control system was considered state of the art at the time.
That’s not the only thing that makes the Lyceum so unique though. The Lyceum was the first Broadway theater to receive landmark status in 1974. This status was much deserved, the Lyceum’s facade makes it one of the most stunning buildings in the whole city. Daniel Frohman even built an apartment above the theater where he could watch his productions through a trap door. According to legend, Frohman would wave a white handkerchief out the door to let his actress wife know when she was overacting.
2. Studio 54 Theater
Funnily enough, Studio 54 is more known for its time as a club than a theater, despite only existing as a club for 33 months. As a club Studio 54 was and still is known for its massive parties, famous guests, and disco dancing. Despite its bright but short tenure as a club, Studio 54 has a great theater tradition as well.
The theater was originally built as the Gallo Opera House in 1927 and the first show staged was La Boheme. However, the theater soon began hosting non-musical performances in hopes of attracting a larger audience. The change didn’t help, and for several years the theater switched ownership and gained a reputation for its failures. In the 1970s, it became the famous club, Studio 54 and remained a club under various names until 1988. In 1998, the Roundabout Theater Company found the then-abandoned building, revitalized it, and held its first show there in 2004. Ever since then Studio 54 Theater has been a wonderful and successful home for Broadway theater.
3. Gershwin Theater
The Gershwin may not have the same history as some of the other theaters on this list, but what it lacks in history it makes up for in size. The Gershwin is the largest Broadway theater, holding over 1,900 seats. When the designer, Ralph Alswang, was creating the theater, he thought that more people wanted to sit near the orchestra instead of up in the balcony, so the lower level has 1,280 seats while there are only 660 on the upper levels.
When the Gershwin opened its doors on November 18th, 1972 it was called the Uris after the building it was housed in. For many years the Uris housed some of Broadway’s most famous productions. At the 1983 Tony awards, it was officially named the Gershwin Theater, to honor George and Ira Gershwin.
4. Helen Hayes Theater
On the other end of the size spectrum, is the Helen Hayes Theater. When it was built in 1912, it was fittingly called the Little Theater because it only had 299 seats. That small size is exactly what Winthrop Ames, the man behind the construction of the Helen Hayes, intended.
Ames wanted to create a theater that was small and intimate so that the audience and performers could connect better. However, small crowds meant small profits, and in 1920 out of financial necessity, more seats were added. The theater was renamed in 1983 after the first Helen Hayes theater was demolished. It was fitting that “The First Lady of American Theater,” would continue to have a theater on Broadway that honored her. The little theater today still only has 599 seats, making it the smallest Broadway theater. The Helen Hayes Theater was also the last independently owned theater on Broadway until it was acquired by the Second Stage Theater Company in 2008.
5. The Neil Simon Theater
Throughout Broadway’s history, theaters have been named after the writers, performers, and critics who made it what it is today. However, the Neil Simon Theater is the only theater to be named after a theater legend while that person was still alive. Despite being named after the legendary playwright on June 29th, 1983, for most of its life, the Neil Simon has been known as the Alvin Theater.
The Alvin Theater opened on November 22nd, 1927 and was named after the two men who built it, Alex Aarons and Vinton Freedley. The Alvin was host to some of Broadway’s classic productions and legendary performers, but what most people might know it for is being the home of the first Broadway run of Annie.
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