A New Reign at Kings Theatre

King's Theater, Flatbush, Brooklyn

I’ve got all my life to live, and I’ve got all my love to give, and I’ll survive. I WILL SURVIVE!

So sang Queen Diana Ross at the grand re-opening of King’s Theatre in Flatbush, Brooklyn. On that cold, February night, Ross’s words were less about spurned love than the stage on which she was performing: After almost 40 years of disuse, decline, and decay, this monumentally beautiful palace was back – all to the tune of a $95 million restoration, the product of a public/ private partnership.

If this hypnotic, sold-out evening was any indication, the Kings will continue to survive, dammit. It will survive.

————

I got a few, harried iPhone pictures in while attending Ross’s concert – check them out… and then see the theatre for yourself.

The theatre is 3,200 seats strong, and not one of them is bad. (Believe me. I was in the very rear of the mezz and almost felt the ruffle of Ross’s tulle gowns.)

Kings Theatre, Flatbush, Brooklyn

The governing principle behind the space’s design seems to be “more is more;” it’s impossible to argue with this philosophy when greeted by a box this sumptuous, this lavish:

Kings Theatre, Flatbush, Brooklyn

Unlike, say, a typical Broadway theatre, the Kings is incredibly open, the mezz extending over only a few rows of the rear orchestra. This openness makes the space really feel like an arena.

Kings Theatre, Flatbush, Brooklyn

King's Theater, Flatbush, Brooklyn

The lobby is no less impressive than the house…

King's Theater, Flatbush, Brooklyn

… and it features several architectural treasures like this old lighting unit.

Kings Theatre, Flatbush, Brooklyn

Renovations this extraordinary face mind-numbing obstacles of politics and finance… so three hearty cheers to everyone involved in an urban renewal this miraculous. THANK YOU for bringing this gorgeous gem back to life!

Did you think I’d crumble?
Did you think I’d lay down and die?
Oh no, not I! I will survive!

To learn more about this and other so-called “Wonder Theaters,” click HERE. See what’s playing next at the Kings HERE.

TheaTour!: Loew’s Theater, Brooklyn

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Deep in Brooklyn sits the old Loew’s 46th Street Theater, a faded film palace now annexed by a furniture store. It’s beyond repair—and not beautiful enough to mourn—but still worth the peek I got on a recent Sunday.

Here’s how the space looks from the street…

photo 2 copy 2But here’s what you see once you convince the owners to let you back in the storeroom! (Would that all storerooms looked so cool…)

photo 3See what I mean about “beyond repair”? But also kind of ruin-porn beautiful…

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The space under the mezzanine is part of the furniture store, so it’s been walled off…

photo 2… but the balcony still exists, even if it’s very dimly lit.

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The space is interesting on closer inspection, too… and creepy!

photo 5I shut off the lights as I left, but one, lone bulb still shone from the stage. The space might be filled with furniture, littered with garbage, and crumbling from disrepair, but wonder of wonders… it’s still got a ghost light!

photo 4You, too can visit this crumbly-beautiful theater! It’s at 4515 New Utrecht Ave. in Brooklyn. Get a good book, hop on the subway, and make a day of it. Just don’t go on Saturday—per the area’s Hassidic population, the area totally shuts down on the Sabbath.

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GIMME GIMME MORE!
– TheaTour!: Clowes Memorial Hall
– #broadwayproblems

 

 

 

 

 

 

Richard III and Dem Bones

Britain Richard IIINow is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this hump of torque: Scholars at the University of Leicester have confirmed the above skeleton as that of Shakespeare’s most twisted, twisting villain, Richard III. (Check out the deformed spine! Kevin Spacey and the rest got it right!)

The body’s been missing since its hasty burial, but has finally been located, 500 years after the fact, under a parking lot.

I don’t know about you, but I’m already planning a trip to the grave, where I’ll kneel and whisper sweet nothings like, “Blush, blush, thou lump of foul deformity,” and “Foul devil, for God’s sake hence and trouble us not!”

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photos courtesy of the University of Leicester

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TheaTour!: The Empire Garden Restaurant

If you’re like me, old, repurposed theaters both thrill and dismay you. On the one hand, it’s exciting to see something familiar in a surprising light (how will they use that mezzanine?!); on the other, it’s always a bit sad to see the breeding grounds of art turned into a deli or a shoe store.

Empire Garden Restaurant, Globe Theater, Boston, Chinatown, theatre architecture, converted theater old theater

That melancholic mixture—half smile, half tear—arrives full bore at the Empire Garden Restaurant in Boston. Known in legitimacy as the Globe Theater or as Loew’s Globe Theater, the EGR successfully retains much of its theatrical charm, making a hell of a backdrop for dim sum. Still… it makes a hell of a backdrop for dim sum. Enough said.

Dipping under its deep red marquee, a small, uneventful lobby takes you to a TV-studded, classical stairway.

Empire Garden Restaurant, Globe Theater, Boston, Chinatown, theatre architecture, converted theater old theater

Another lobby waits at the top…

Empire Garden Restaurant, Globe Theater, Boston, Chinatown, theatre architecture, converted theater old theater

… and snif snif—you’re in dim sum land!

Make sure to mind the carts as you enter the gorgeous seating area. (Apparently the panels in the proscenium open up to reveal another dining area, opened for weddings and such.)

Empire Garden Restaurant, Globe Theater, Boston, Chinatown, theatre architecture, converted theater old theater

After ordering, run on up to that proscenium and take in the plaster.

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Just don’t think too hard about the strange collision of Eastern and Western art behind you!

Empire Garden Restaurant, Globe Theater, Boston, Chinatown, theatre architecture, converted theater old theater

The entire restaurant, the owner explained to me, sits one floor level above what would’ve been the orchestra section. (As if the stairs weren’t enough of a giveaway, the proscenium’s legs tell the original story: They’re almost comically short.)

But that original ground level grants no hint of its glitzy, lavish past. Today, it’s an Asian foods market.

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So: Yes, it’s cool to have your lunch in such gilded splendor. Who doesn’t want a little cherub watching as you eat pork dumplings?

But it’s also a bit sacrilegious, isn’t it? Knawing your way around a temple of theater?

Forgive us, Bacchus, as we slurp and chew.

Roundabout Does a Roundabout

I’m pretty much definitely the only person who finds this interesting (am I? am I?), but it seems that the Roundabout Theatre Company is doing a bit of rebranding. Witness the swanky new poster pasted on 44th Street…

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Cool, right? It feels current, stylish, casually affluent. The abstract-y comedy/drama masks, the mod coloring, the artful nod to diversity, the focus on YOU (“exposing you,” “introducing you,” “it’s about you”)–it’s a far cry from the more traditional lettering more commonly associated with this reputable, classics-heavy company:

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Does this advertising shift herald a new programming focus?

Time shall tell…

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Let’s Chat! with Jay Montgomery


Superstorm Sandy did more than ravage the infrastructure of the Tristate area; it threw a major wrench in the schedules of pretty much ever theater production in the region. Especially hard hit was Staten Island’s Harbor Lights Theater Company, whose production of The King and I was thrown in jeopardy when Sandy settled in. Associate Artistic Director Jay Montgomery was nice enough to answer some questions about the challenges Harbor Lights now faces. 

What have been the physical and financial impacts of Sandy?
Harbor Lights produces at Snug Harbor Cultural Center, a New York City Park. When the Mayor shut down the parks, we were shut down, also. We lost six days of build and tech time, as well as rehearsal. We delayed our opening a week, and then another day when Snug Harbor was closed due to the Nor’easter, finally opening Friday, November 9th. We have to close on the 18th, rather than extend a week, due to the unavailability of the cast the next week, which is Thanksgiving.

Financially, we lost a third of our run—we’re a new company in our third season, the only Equity company in the history of Staten Island—and a three-week run is what we’ve built up to in our short history. The loss of revenue puts us in real peril. We estimate the loss at $30,000.

Has the state provided any aid?
The state hasn’t provided any aid as of yet. We do intend to pursue support if available. As of yet, we have not found any sources to help with loss of revenue.

How did your creative team manage to work on the show while public transportation was shut down?
The creative team worked electronically through the storm’s aftermath. Getting to SI was impossible for days—we drove to our Stage Manager’s house—she had power—to recharge and do administrative work.

How can New Yorkers help you guys out?
New Yorkers can help by coming to see the show! One of the great things the arts can do is promote healing, and this production certainly does that.

Have you been in touch with other theaters impacted by the storm?
We have been in touch with other theaters indirectly through David Lotz of Actors’ Equity; he has been spearheading communication throughout the area.

Moving away from the hurricane, what are the challenges for a young company like yours?
Our biggest challenge is simply carrying on. This production of The King and I was a strategic choice to get us to the next level in audience development. We invested significant money in advertising and production value — specifically choosing a classic piece of theater. Besides the loss of four performances, the last thing on the mind of Staten Islanders right now is to do anything pleasurable, and with good reason. This has caused a slow down in ticket sales for remaining performances resulting in additional loss of income. Whether or not we can survive the financial loss is unknown, but we remain determined to have a glorious closing week.

We’ve offered blocks of tickets to displaced people, relief staff, and volunteers in Staten Island to two of our performances  encouraging them to let us transport and lift them for an afternoon or evening; Harbor Lights was created to be an institution to serve the community, by bringing the arts to our underserved borough. We hope to continue to fulfill that mission.

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The King and I plays through November 18th at The Music Hall at Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden
Tickets are available HERE.
More at http://theharborlightstheatercompany.org/
Hurricane photo, above, courtesy of NASA
Pictured below: Hansel Tan and YoonJeong Seong in the Harbor Lights production of The King and I.

Detroit House

1.

“Can we take a look at the old theater?”

My friend and I were in downtown Detroit and had ventured into the lobby of something called the Michigan building. Visitors to town, we were unsure what kind of cajoling would be needed to let us into the crumbling theater that we’d heard was hidden inside.

“$20,” said the guard.

“Really?” Too high.

“$10.”

More like it—

“$5”

Sold—

“Just messing with y’all. It’s free—take the elevator the third floor, go right, then through the exit sign.”

2.

I’d read about this place on the Detroit blogs, blogs that sported cool urban-explorer names like “Faded Detroit,” and “detroitfunk.” These sites specialize in what’s become known as “ruin porn,” wistful photography that glorifies deterioration and degeneration. I’m a sucker for that sort of thing, especially when it comes to theaters, so upon learning of this faded palace, I knew I had to make a visit.

The blogs had laid out the basics: Once a palatial, 4,000-seat house featuring the likes of the Marx Brothers, John Philip Sousa and Bob Hope, the Michigan had barely skirted demolition in the late ‘70s, but was converted into a garage when workers in the office building it’s in whined about inadequate parking. The result was a faint echo of the former glory, but some of the old magic, I heard, could still be found.

3.

As directed, my friend and I headed up, went right, made our way down some steps, through another door, and—

“Ahhhhhh—!!!!!!!”

There she was! A brick and plaster cavern, a frozen Rococo tent, the most absurd and fantastical parking lot known to man. The walls rippled Mars brown and red, grey and cement, faded gold and seasick green.

Heaven, in other words.

Navigating the 15-odd cars in hibernation, we found a spot in the center of the shell and pieced together what we could of the theater’s history. Three levels of parking had been installed at some point—we were on the top floor—so that explained our proximity to the glorious ceiling. Glancing up, we could see the gorgeously spoiled plasterwork almost intimately—a glyph here, a fleur-de-lis there.

We turned around, taking in the back of the house. There stood the stub of what must’ve been the balcony. There were the old corridors leading patrons to their seats. And there was what used to be the rooftop of the lobby.

The curve of the ceiling directed our eyes forward, to the proscenium. The concrete floors had cut off both of its legs, but the rounded top sat mostly undisturbed.

Beyond it lay the gap of the stage itself, a vast maw untouched by the parking lot, if not by the elements.

The water dripped and the sun shone through and flanks of rust and mold continued their slow crusade and I couldn’t imagine anything more beautiful. Why? Decay creates a mystical regret that makes us (or me, at least) feel curious and humbled and part of the Bigger Picture, no less guarded from the steady, wearying forces of time than the buildings around us. It’s like looking at the stars and feeling small and big at the same time, and knowing that The Answer, the simple answer, is right there, embedded in something physical just beyond your touch.

4.

Detroiters, of course, are starved for this kind of transcendence. We all know how the city has turned into a brittle chrysalis, how the jobs and the factories and the prosperity have vanished, how the public trust has gone sour. How plywood fills the windows of downtown office buildings. How traffic lights, if they work at all, blink the same eternal pulse: red black red black redblackredblack. How homes lost to foreclosure sprout trees like so many nursery gardens.

This is the roiling landscape Lisa D’Amour chose for her Pulizer Prize finalist of a play, Detroit, seen earlier this fall at Playwrights Horizons.

Walking around the Michigan Theater it was impossible not to think of D’Amour’s play, a play that culminates in the destruction of a house. Taking in the Michigan’s slow demise, I wondered, are its remains so different from the charred beams and joists of D’Amour’s play?

Not really, if only for the delightful happenstance that theaters are often referred to as, well, houses. I love this: What word could be more appropriate for spaces that soothe and rattle, welcome and surprise, nurture and madden?

So there we stood, my friend and I, in a crumbling Detroit house, acting as its small, temporary family.

Of course, a family turns a house into something else entirely.

A home.

There might only have been two of us, but in that moment, we filled the Michigan. She was a full house. A full home.

Five Reasons Shakespeare in the Park is NOT like the DMV


Ok, ok sure—they look similar at first glance. At both, you wait for hours and hours, uncomfortable, and emerge with a little piece of paper for reward. But no, I insist, NO! Waiting at Shakespeare in the Park is not like waiting at the DMV!

For proof, I’ve gathered five pieces of evidence at recent visits to both Esteemed New York Locales.

SITP and the DMV differ in…

1. The quality of fellow line-waiters.
At the DMV, everyone burrows into AngryBirds and trades scowls. SITP, conversely, produces an endlessly interesting supply of theater-lovers there to remind you that even though it’s 5AM and rainy, it’s not too early to debate the merits of Barbara Walsh’s “Ladies Who Lunch.”

2. The setting.
Um, so which do you prefer? A beautiful, bucolic urban paradise, or a windowless maze of nylon cords, blinking LEDs, and Helvetica? Well?

3. The drama.
This one’s a little less clear, I’ll give you. SITP enjoys clear, obvious action: Murder! Incest! Straight-toning! But while the drama of the DMV doesn’t project to the back row in quite the same fashion, it can be just as compelling: Watch, as that woman quietly dissolves into a puddle of impatience. Watch, as that aspiring rapper Def Poetry Jams to himself for two hours. Watch, as the girl reaches the front of the line and learns that her Social Security Card only counts as two points of identification, not three. Oh, the tragedy!!!

4. The quality of the line monitors.
Eric, the amazing SITP shepherd, infuses an appropriate sense of occasion and intensity when he warns patrons with omens like “this line is gonna get long and it’s gonna get long fast.” That sad man at the DMV? Well, he just looks confused.

5. The price.
I may have dropped out of AP Calculus, but I do think that $60.75 is more expensive than “free.” Enjoy that cash, DMV… ENJOY IT.

“Drama” excepted, I rest my case.

So there.

The Katharine McPhee Entrance

Yes, I enjoy entering Times Square at the “Katharine McPhee Subway Entrance” on 43rd, and yes, I quietly moan “Let Me Be Your Star” each time I ascend those steps.

Not weird at all.

Right?

Burger Glut!

Shake Shake and Schnippers, don’t get offended, but a little pre-theater burger promiscuity is in order: Five Guys is opening on 42nd Street!

Only problem now is figuring out how to sneak all those extra fries past the ticket scanners for some intermission snacking…

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