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41 Random Facts About The 41 Broadway Theaters

If you’re anything like me, you love the theatres just as much as the shows that play in them. With the reopening of the Hudson Theatre, there are now currently 41 Broadway theatres. The next time you’re lucky enough to visit one of these theatrical temples, you can impress your friends and family with your theatre trivia knowledge with these 41 facts:

1. The Al Hirschfeld Theatre

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When the Al Hirschfeld Theatre was built for its original namesake, vaudeville impresario Martin Beck, it was the only theatre in New York that was owned outright without a mortgage.

2. The Ambassador Theatre

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Though the theatre looks totally normal from the outside, the Ambassador Theatre is actually situated diagonally on its property to maximize the seating potential.

3. The American Airlines Theatre

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In the 1990s, before it was acquired by the Roundabout Theatre Company, the Selwyn Theatre (now American Airlines) was temporarily the Times Square Visitors Center.

4. The August Wilson Theater

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The August Wilson Theater was, in a way, responsible for the careers of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. The  Garrick Gaieties, a benefit revue that thrust the future titans of Broadway into the public spotlight, was originally put on to raise money for the new tapestries for the Guild Theater, now called the August Wilson. But don’t look for the tapestries when you go see “Groundhog Day” — they’ve sadly been lost over time.

5. The Belasco Theatre

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The theatre’s namesake, David Belasco, had a 10-room apartment built into the theatre for himself. Styled in an American Gothic theme (he was known as the Bishop of Broadway), the duplex featured an elevator connected to backstage, several offices, an ornate fireplace and even a grotto. The apartment is abandoned now and not in use or available to the public.

6. The Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre

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The grand arches in the mezzanine are decorated with two beautiful murals entitled “Lovers of Spain,” by Willy Pogany.

7. The Booth Theatre

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The Booth Theatre is named after legendary actor Edwin Booth, who was known as one of the greatest Shakespearean actors of all time. He had his legacy somewhat overshadowed by his infamous brother, presidential assassin John Wilkes Booth.

8. The Broadhurst Theatre

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The Broadhurst Theatre is an exact mirror of its neighbor on 45th Street, the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.

9. The Broadway Theatre

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While several theatres became movie houses at one point in their past, the Broadway Theatre started out as a movie house and became a legitimate theatre. It was here that ground-breaking cartoon “Steamboat Willie” debuted and introduced the world to Mickey Mouse.

10. The Brooks Atkinson Theatre

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Like many of the Broadway theatres, the Brooks Atkinson was, for some time, a television studio. The theatre was known as CBS Studio 59 and was where popular game shows “I’ve Got a Secret” and “What’s My Line?” were filmed.

11. The Circle in the Square Theatre

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The Circle in the Square houses the Circle in the Square Theatre School, the only accredited training conservatory associated with a Broadway theatre.

12. The Cort Theatre

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The proscenium arch of the Cort Theatre was constructed in perforated plaster and was treated with art glass, enabling it to be lit during performances. While the arch still exists, the lighting feature no longer operates.

13. The Ethel Barrymore Theatre

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Named for the legendary Ethel Barrymore, whose production of “The Kingdom of God” opened the theatre in 1928, the Barrymore was the last theatre built before the Great Depression and the last theatre built by the Shubert Brothers, Lee and J.J.

14. The Eugene O’Neill Theatre

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The Forrest Theatre, its original name, was originally planned by the Schuberts as half of a theatre/hotel complex. But, because of the Great Depression, the Shuberts could only afford to build the theatre.

15. The Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre

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The Schoenfeld, originally the Plymouth, was architect Herbert J. Krapp’s first commission. Krapp was a monumental figure in the shaping of Broadway as we know it today, having designed 15 of the current Broadway theatres and several more that are no longer standing.

16. The Gershwin Theatre

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The Gershwin Theatre was originally named the Uris Theatre, whose first occupant was a massive flop called “Via Galactica.” However, the show was originally called “Up.” The producers decided to change the name of the musical when they booked the new Broadway theatre, not wanting to have “Up Uris” displayed in big, bold letters in Times Square.

17. The Helen Hayes Theatre

Originally named the Little Theatre, the venue lived up to its name with only 300 seats. In the 1920s, it was redesigned to increase the seating and improve acoustics. The theatre now seats 597 people, making it the smallest Broadway theatre.

18. The Hudson Theatre

The Hudson is both Broadway’s oldest and newest theatre. It first opened on Oct. 19, 1903, beating the New Amsterdam’s opening by one week. The theatre reopened on Feb. 23, 2017, after being dark since 1968.

19. The Imperial Theatre

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The Imperial is probably the luckiest theatre on Broadway. Besides more recent long-running hits such as “Billy Elliot” and “Les Misérables,” from 1938 to 1968, only two shows that played the Imperial ran fewer than 300 performances.

20. The John Golden Theatre

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The exterior of the Golden was used as the location of the movie version of “A Chorus Line.” It is also shown in the background during the opening scenes of “All About Eve” as the home of Margo Channing’s “Aged in Wood.”

21. The Longacre Theatre

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The Longacre Theatre was built by impresario Harry Frazee. He was also the owner of the Boston Red Sox and sold player Babe Ruth to the Yankees, starting what came to be known as the Curse of the Bambino. Because of the curse, many Broadway producers at the time avoided the Longacre, as it was thought to be unlucky.

22. The Lunt-Fontanne Theatre

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The Lunt-Fontanne, originally the Globe Theatre, had quite a fantastical design element. The theatre’s ceiling, as well as the roof 20 feet above it, was designed to retract, allowing for an open-air feel like Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. The giant sliding doors and large gears are apparently still intact on the roof, though they have been sealed with asphalt.

23. The Lyceum Theatre

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Built by producer David Frohman in 1903, the Lyceum, like the Belasco, was built with an apartment inside. Frohman’s wife was acclaimed actress Margaret Illington, so Frohman gave his apartment a view of the stage. Rumor has it there was also a small opening where Frohman could wave a white handkerchief as a signal to his wife that she was “overacting.” The apartment is now the home of the Shubert Archive.

24. The Lyric Theatre

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The Lyric Theatre sits on the spot once occupied by two Broadway theatres, the Apollo and the original Lyric. Elements of both still stand, however, and are incorporated into the design of the Lyric. For example, you enter the theatre through the original Lyric façade, both on 43rd and 42nd streets. Inside the theatre, the dome overhead is also from the original Lyric, and the proscenium arch is the original from the Apollo.

25. The Majestic Theatre

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The Majestic was built in 1927 as part of a three-theatre complex. The original intent was to have a large theatre (the Majestic), a medium-size theatre (the Jacobs) and a small theatre (the Golden) so that productions could be moved around to any of the three depending on ticket sales. The three theatres share a backstage alley.

26. The Marriott Marquis Theatre

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In order to build the Marriott Marquis Theatre, five other theatres had to be demolished: the original Helen Hayes, the Bijou, the Morosco, the Astor and the Gaiety. The decision brought about an uproar from the theatre community, and several actors even chained themselves to the theatre to prevent the demolition. It didn’t work, obviously, but in an attempt to smooth things over, the developers of the new hotel agreed to build a new state-of-the-art theatre, and thus, the Marquis was born.

27. The Minskoff Theatre

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Currently home to Disney’s “The Lion King,” the Minskoff Theatre is technically located on the third floor of One Astor Place. The theatre is built on the former site of the famous Astor Hotel.

28. The Music Box Theatre

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In 1919, legendary producer Sam H. Harris had a proposition for her red-hot writer Irving Berlin. If Berlin came up with a new Broadway revue, Harris would build a new theatre to house it. Not long after, Berlin presented Harris with the idea for the Music Box Revue, and, good on his word, the Music Box Theatre was built.

29. The Nederlander Theatre

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Most Broadway buffs know that the Times Square Church resides in the Mark Hellinger, a  former Broadway theatre. But most don’t know that the Hellinger was not the church’s first home. The Nederlander Theatre was home to the Times Square Church from 1987 to 1989, until the Nederlanders sold it to Hellinger.

30. The Neil Simon Theatre

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The Neil Simon was originally named the Alvin Theatre. Built by producing partners Alex Aarons and Vinton Freedley, the name “Alvin Theatre” came from the “Al” in Alex and the “Vin” in Vinton.

31. The New Amsterdam Theatre

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The magnificent New Amsterdam Theatre was in shambles in the 1980s. The interior was flooded, had been looted and was literally crumbling. Disney bought the theatre and spent a reported $34 million to renovate it to its former glory.

32. The Palace Theatre

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The Palace Theatre’s façade is most recognizable by its large billboards that display ads for various Broadway shows. But the giant billboards weren’t always there. The theatre’s actual façade is buried beneath them, and hasn’t been seen since the 1980s, when a hotel was built on top of and around the existing theatre and the big billboards went up.

33. The Richard Rodgers Theatre

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The Richard Rodgers holds the record for housing the most number of shows that have won either the Best Play or Best Musical Tony Award: nine musicals and two plays, for a total of 11.

34. The Samuel J. Friedman Theatre

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The movie “The Muppets Take Manhattan” featured the Friedman, then named the Biltmore, as the theatre where the Muppets debut their Broadway show, “Manhattan Melodies.”

35. The Sam S. Shubert Theatre

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Before the Tony Awards were presented at Radio City Musical Hall or the Beacon Theatre, they used to be presented at different Broadway theatres. The Shubert Theatre hosted the Tony’s the most times, with eight broadcasts.

36. The Stephen Sondheim Theatre

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While most people think of the 1998 Alan Cumming-led revival of “Cabaret” playing Studio 54, it actually started at Henry Miller’s Theatre, the theatre’s original name. But when a crane collapsed next door, the city shut down the street and subsequently, the show. After scrambling to find a new venue, Studio 54 was procured.

37. The St. James Theatre

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The St. James was actually built on the site of the original Sardi’s Restaurant. When theatrical titan A.L. Erlanger wanted the space to build a new theatre, Vincent Sardi simply moved up the street  to the location the restaurant is now in.

38. Studio 54

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Before the Roundabout Theatre Company leased and eventually purchased the venue, the once-famous club was set to be torn down in 1996 by the owners, Allied Partners, and be replaced with a virtual reality gaming venue called The Cyberdome.

39. The Vivian Beaumont

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While the theatre, owned and operated as part of Lincoln Center, is a newer theatre compared to most Broadway houses, the space does have a theatrical past that predates the theatre itself. The area that would eventually become Lincoln Center and the Vivian Beaumont originally contained a lot of basketball courts, the same ones that were used in the filming of the movie version of “West Side Story.”

40. The Walter Kerr Theatre

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The Kerr, named after beloved critic and author Walter Kerr, was originally named the Ritz Theatre. But, not all of its “Ritzy” past is gone. If you look at the theatre’s marquee, you’ll notice a stark difference in fonts between “The” and  “Theatre” and “Walter Kerr.” To save money after the name change, only the “Ritz” part was removed from “The Ritz Theatre.” The original Ritz marquee was elaborate and expensive, so a more standard “Walter Kerr” was added, with the elaborate “The” and “Theatre” left in place.

41. The Winter Garden Theatre

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The Winter Garden Theatre is the only Broadway theatre whose structure was not originally intended to be a theatre. The structure was originally built in 1886 as the New York Horse Exchange and stables. It wasn’t until 1911 that the Schuberts bought the space and redesigned it as a theatre. It was even said that when the theatre went through massive renovations after “Cats” ended its record run that crew members found traces of hay deep under the floorboards.

Know any other facts about the Broadway theatres? Any interesting stories about your local theatres? Let us know in the comments below…

2 Comments

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  1. Item 40- The Walter Kerr Theatre.
    I have been working for Jujamcyn for 28 years and was here when the brand new sign, arrived on the truck. I was part of the original team that oversaw the historic restoration and renaming of the theatre. The new sign was designed to replicate the original sign. I can assure you, no expense was spared to recreate the glorious sign and marquee of the former Ritz Theatre. Number 40 is false. Sorry.

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