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COUNTDOWN TO NYE
MUST-SEE LOCATIONS THAT HAVE MADE THE GREAT WHITE WAY THE GLAMOROUS HOME OF BROADWAY
The first quarter of the twentieth century saw a dramatic change in the sizes and types of popular entertainment venues. Blue-collar audiences, previously relegated to the upper balconies of the large theaters, flocked to cheaper new movie houses. Inspired by these intimate new spaces, impresarios like David Belasco created smaller theaters showcasing new types of drama. The Belasco Theater, opened in 1907, features a colonial revival exterior and a neo-Georgian auditorium complete with 18 murals by renowned artist Everett Shin. Belasco made certain that the latest theatrical innovations, including sophisticated lighting, an elevator stage and a nascent special effects studio, were all in place in time for opening night.
The Belasco has since seen almost constant use as a legitimate Broadway house, save for a brief period in the 1950s when it served as an NBC radio studio. The theater has showcased classics from William Shakespeare to Clifford Odets to Noel Coward to George S. Kaufman, hosted iconic talents from John Barrymore to Humphrey Bogart to Walter Matthau, and witnessed Tony-winning performances from the likes of Martita Hunt (The Madwoman of Chaillot, 1948), Colleen Dewhurst (All the Way Home, 1960), Beryl Reid (The Killing of Sister George, 1966), Ralph Fiennes (Hamlet, 1995), and Janet McTeer and Owen Reed (The Doll House, 1997). Die-hard fans of The Rocky Horror Show may also remember the Belasco as the home of the show's legendary 1975 production featuring Tim Curry.
From sharing dangers on the battlefields of Germany as the regimental chaplain of the fighting 69th to his vital work in New York, Hell's Kitchen and Times Square, Father Francis P. Duffy's unrelenting efforts to serve his community are honored by a statue on the island that carries his name. A bronze statue of George M. Cohan also rests on Duffy Square - the only Times Square statue honoring a Broadway legend. Among his other classic tunes, Cohan wrote 1904's "Give My Regards to Broadway", a song popularized in the film "Yankee Doodle Dandy", starring James Cagney. Duffy Square is also home to TKTS, offering reduced-price tickets to Broadway's best. The TKTS booth is a popular ticket-buying location for Times Square visitors, selling over 1.5 tickets each year.
In May 1965, a Broadway institution was founded when Joe Allen opened the restaurant that bears his name. Allen describes the original clientele as consisting mainly of "chorus kids with bad knees". This theater district favorite, where butcher paper covers the tables and Broadway memorabilia covers the walls, is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week, in addition to serving brunch on Sundays.
The New Amsterdam is among Broadway's oldest surviving legitimate theaters. Commissioned in 1902 by theater moguls Marc Klaw and Abraham Erlanger and designed by architects Henry B. Herts and Hugh Tallant, this landmark space boasts a beaux-arts entrance and a magnificent art nouveau interior of painted plaster, carved stone, fine wood, murals and tiles. The New Amsterdam opened with a performance of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, selected by Klaw and Erlanger to evoke the ethereal magic of the theater. From 1913 through 1927, the theater and its rooftop stage were home to various incarnations of Florenz Ziegfield's famous Follies.
The New Amsterdam, like many of its contemporaries, was hit hard by the Great Depression, and was converted into a movie house in 1937. The space continued a gradual descent into decay and disuse until it was purchased by New York State in 1992. The building was subsequently purchased and restored to art nouveau glory by the Walt Disney Company. After a 60-year hiatus, the New Amsterdam reopened in 1997 as a legitimate theater venue. In 1998, a celebrated long-running production of The Lion King opened in the space, garnering Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Director (Julie Taymor) and Best Choreography (Garth Fagan).
NEW VICTORY THEATER
209 W. 42nd Street (just west of Broadway)
The December 11, 1995 opening and dedication of The New Victory - New York's oldest active theater - has marked a new era for 42nd Street. For more than one hundred years, the theater has symbolized, and survived, the mercurial fortunes of this fabled street. Now as before, its reemergence - this time as a theater for young audiences - signals the next and newest wave of popular entertainment on the block.
Built in 1900 by Oscar Hammerstein and originally named the "Theatre Republic," the venue helped establish 42nd Street as the City's new theater district. Hammerstein described it as the "perfect parlor theater...a drawing room of the drama dedicated to all that is best in dramatic and lyric art."
In 1902, the impresario David Belasco took over the theater's stewardship. A string of hits followed, showcasing such talents as George Arliss, Tyrone Power, Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish. After 1914, when Belasco moved on to other venues, a series of producers continued to mount plays and vaudeville shows.
Legitimate theater at the Republic finally ceased in 1932, when Billy Minsky opened Broadway's first striptease house there. Minsky painted a brash checkerboard pattern on the facade, juxtaposed with the faces of his leading ladies, and installed a double runway down the middle of the auditorium.
Burlesque shows continued to grind until 1937, when they were banned by Mayor LaGuardia. In a burst of wartime patriotism, the theater was renamed the Victory and showed second-run motion pictures over the next several decades. When 42nd Street's decline reached new depths in the 1970s, the Victory became the block's first XXX-rated movie house.
The New 42nd Street sparked the revitalization of the block when it renovated the Victory and reopened it in December 1995 as The New Victory Theater. Newsday raved that "sitting in The New Victory Theater is like being inside a treasure chest," and with just 499 seats in the house, audiences are guaranteed an intimate connection to world-class artists and their thoughtful, inspiring, sometimes gritty, sometimes hilarious productions. For the past 100 years, Oscar Hammerstein's theater has remained a catalyst for change on 42nd Street. Under the direction of The New 42nd Street, The New Victory Theater launched 42nd Street as a premier destination, once again, for all of New York's citizens and visitors.
1564 Broadway (between 46th & 47th Streets)
Broadway impresario Martin Beck dubbed his 1913 theater the "Valhalla of Vaudeville", and vaudeville and theater fans alike did flock to its doors to catch performances by the likes of Ed Wynn, Ethel Barrymore, Harry Houdini, Fanny Brice, Eddie Cantor, Sarah Bernhardt, Helen Keller, Jack Benny, George Burns, Bob Hope, Ethel Merman, Barbara Stanwyck, Al Jolson, Jimmy Durante and many more. In 1932, the Palace was running four shows each day at $1 per show, featuring a mix of live entertainment and movie shorts, before giving way completely to movies later that same year.
After extensive renovation, the Palace reopened as a legitimate venue for musical comedy with the 1966 debut of a Neil Simon-Cy Coleman-Dorothy Fields musical, Sweet Charity, featuring Tony-winning choreography by Bob Fosse. Memorable Tony-winning productions have since included George M! (1968), Applause (1970), La Cage aux Folles (1983) and The Will Rogers Follies (1991).
This landmark restaurant opened in 1921 and quickly became a legendary Broadway watering hole. Once the nightspot of choice for the stars of the Great White Way, Sardi's still attracts occasional live celebrity clients to accompany the numerous caricature portraits that line its walls. The restaurant covers four full floors, but those looking for stronger drinks and star sightings should head downstairs to the bar.
Historic Shubert Alley is the epicenter of Broadway Theater. Two of its most prominent theaters, the Booth and the Shubert, built simultaneously in 1913, share striking Venetian Renaissance exterior decoration. The Booth Theater is named for famous 19th century actor Edwin Booth, and the Shubert was named for theatrical impresario Sam Shubert, who had been killed a few years earlier in a train wreck. The Shubert Alley theaters have been home to a host of famous productions, including You Can't Take It With You, The Philadelphia Story, The Elephant Man, A Chorus Line and Chicago.
St. Malachy's Roman Catholic Church was founded in 1902. Although the succeeding years have seen many changes in the surrounding neighborhood, the church remains an active integral part of the unusual and dynamic community that is Times Square.
By 1920, St. Malachy's found itself in the heart of a burgeoning theater district that had exploded into life in the surrounding neighborhood. Seemingly overnight, the traditional parishioners had been replaced in the pews by hordes of actors, dancers, musicians, craftsmen and tourists. St. Malachy's soon adapted to the needs of the new parishioners. Masses, confessions and missions were all arranged to accommodate the rigors of theater and nightclub schedules. And with the construction of the Actors' Chapel below the main church in 1920, St. Malachy's cemented its reputation as a haven of worship for the entertainment community.
Douglas Fairbanks married Joan Crawford at St. Malachy's. Herb Shriner's children were baptized there. Thousands jammed West 49th Street outside the church in final tribute to Rudolph Valentino. George M. Cohan, Spencer Tracy, Perry Como, Irene Dunne, Florence Henderson, Elaine Stritch, Rosiland Russell, Danny Thomas, Bob and Dolores Hope and Ricardo Montalban all worshipped at St. Malachy's. Fred Allen, Don Ameche, Cyril Ritchard, Pat O'Brien and Jimmy Durante served many a mass. As late as 1968, over 16,000 people monthly attended St. Malachy's; and on opening nights, many in show business came to light candles for the success of their shows.
But sweeping change came again. Madison Square Garden moved away. The night clubs closed. Massage parlors, porn shops, prostitution and drugs moved in. The neighborhood became unstable. Theater people and tourists feared lingering in the area and stopped visiting St. Malachy's. Much of the parish's congregation moved away. Most who stayed were elderly and poor. Many were held virtually under siege in decaying single-room occupancy hotels and tenements with tubs in kitchens and shared bathrooms in hallways.
The church and its people were suffering, and vandalism and theft were weekly occurrences. But by working together with local and community organizations and with support from groups like the Shubert Foundation and the Times Square Alliance (then the Times Square Business Improvement District), Church officials and parishioners set in motion yet another wave of far-reaching changes, designed to improve the quality of life of the elderly living in the surrounding communities and to repair and restore the church.
Today, St. Malachy's stands as a place of peace in an often hectic area, working to make the Times Square a place where visitors and theatergoers can come with delight rather than apprehension.
The Town Hall is the Hall for All the People. Designed in 1921 by the renowned firm of McKim, Mead & White for the League of Political Education, a group of suffragettes seeking to pass the 19th Amendment, The Hall was built with the idea that “all people are created equal”— a principle underscored by the fact that there are no obstructed views from any of the seats. After an early concert held by Richard Strauss, the acoustics were deemed “second to none”, and The Town Hall became THE place for artists to make their concert debut. Over the years, the stage has been graced by a litany of iconic performers, ranging from Andres Segovia, Paul Robeson, Alice Tully, Igor Stravinsky, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughn, Lester Young, Thelonius Monk, Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, and many more.
Some of the most memorable historical moments include: Margaret Sanger’s arrest from the stage which galvanized the Planned Parenthood movement, singer Marian Anderson breaking the color line at a time when no New York concert hall would allow a person of color to perform, and Langston Hughes’s appearance, which landed him a speaking tour and the ability to buy back the rights to his books. From 1935-1950, The Hall was home to an entire movement of social and political discussions, regularly broadcast by radio's Blue Network, known as “America’s Town Meetings of the Air.” The shows boasted a list of legendary political figures, from Eleanor Roosevelt to Booker T. Washington, to Fiorella LaGuardia and Joseph McCarthy. Today, the Town Hall continues its legacy of offering diverse programming for all New Yorkers at affordable rates.
If you would like to learn more about The Town Hall, the theater offers free public tours on Fridays. Click here for more details.