I Don’t Know About You, But I’m Feeling 42: The Times Square Theater

DSC03648I recently got a super cool peek inside the Times Square Theater, the last of eight houses on 42nd Street to see rehabilitation since city/state seizure (and Disney) happened in the 1990s. Theater architecture geeks will recall that the seven other spaces on the Deuce have met a variety of ends, some as Broadway theaters, some as converted commercial spaces, but that all of them remain preserved in some essential way – PRAISE BE!

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The Times Square is poised for something between legitimacy and conversion: Currently under construction, it’s set to house something called BROADWAY 4D. Described as “a 3D, film-enhanced show incorporating in-theater special effects,” it will showcase “songs from Broadway musicals by the likes of Rodgers and Hammerstein and Andrew Lloyd Weber” to be performed by “stars of Hollywood and the Great White Way.” (All this from the Post –– read more HERE.) As for that fourth dimension, there will also be “scents, climatic changes and extravagant sound.” Oh my!

Before major construction got underway, I snapped some pictures of the wonderful space. Scaffolding mars the view in a major way, but use your imagination so see beyond the metal rods to a house that vibrates with history, spirit, and capital-B BROADWAY!

Here’s a view of the theater from the south side of 42nd Street:

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You’re probably under the mistaken impression that you saw Spider-Man at the Times Square –– the theater’s long, beautifully columned exterior sits adjacent to the small façade sported by the Foxwoods (recently home to Spidey and Co.). But the Foxwoods actually sits on 43rd Street; its 42nd Street entrance is really just a hallway that extends halfway up the block where theater proper lives. The Times Square fits cozily into the elbow created by this “neck” entrance. See my hideous, completely not-to-scale drawing if you’re confused.

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But why stare at maps when there are real-life gems to see? LET’S GO!

First, check out the wonderful old stage space and the maw of the proscenium, home to the original productions of Noel Coward’s Private Lives and the Gershwins’ Strike Up the Band…

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… but be careful not to fall into the trap space!

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Back in the day, harried chorus girls scampered their way through this door up to their dressing rooms…

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… and beautiful sets hung in this gaping fly space.

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Here’s a view from the stage, out at the house. JAZZ HANDS!

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A wider view from house right of the orchestra…

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Anxious playwrights — now long gone — paced here, at the back of the house…

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More delights await upstairs…

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… in the mezz!

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Lift a small window on the theater’s second level, and you get a closer look at the columns on the facade.

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Back downstairs, through the rear-house exit…

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…is the facade. That floorspace in the right of the shot is actually 42nd Street sidewalk.

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And there you have it. She’s certainly in need of some serious work, but it’s exciting that the ongoing repairs are in service of making the space a theater and not, y’know, a Burger King. (No joke there: The chain was one of several… shall we say interesting tenants… that expressed interest in the Times Square –– read about that saga HERE.)

Fare you, well, Times Square Theater, and we’ll see you on the other side!

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Onstage at the Times Square Theater

READ MORE ABOUT OLD THEATERS ON 42ND STREET!
— Eat wings at the old LIBERTY THEATER — READ! READ! READ!
— The AMC is actually an OLD BROADWAY THEATER — READ! READ! READ!

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

TheaTour!: The Mark Hellinger Theater

Mark Hellinger TheaterThe Mark Hellinger is the most beautiful theater on Broadway.

It hasn’t housed a show since 1989.

Sadness of sadnesses—I know. Despite this shockingly gorgeous interior…

Mark Hellinger Theater…despite this intricately designed and perfectly executed ornamentation…

Mark Hellinger Theater …despite this tremendously preserved craftsmanship…

Mark Hellinger Theater…despite all of this, the Mark Hellinger sees no dancing feet, no 11 o’clock numbers, no matinee ladies.

How can this be, you ask?

Once upon a dark time—the 1980’s!—the Nederlander Organization (then the owner of the Hellinger) leased, and in 1991 sold the space to the Times Square Church, which has operated the 1,600-seat jewel ever since. “It’s a question of economics,” Nederlander’s Arthur Rubin said at the time. “We can’t fill the theaters we have, and the city has not given us tax abatements when the theaters are dark.” With that, the one-time home of hits like My Fair Lady and Jesus Christ Superstar disappeared from the boards.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that the Times Square Church has taken exquisite care of the space, and makes it open to the public. I took a self-guided tour between services on a recent Sunday and was thunderstruck at the theater’s glory.

Care to look around?

The theater’s plain exterior, on 51st Street between Broadway and 8th Avenue, belies the glories within.

Mark Hellinger TheaterMark Hellinger TheaterThere is one interesting outdoor feature, however. This fellow, one of a pair!

Mark Hellinger TheaterInterestingly, the theater’s entrance used to be on Broadway. But nowadays, entering on 51st, visitors enter into this blindingly beautiful lobby…

Mark Hellinger TheaterAbove everything hangs a chandelier…

Mark Hellinger Theater lobbyBut the true glory is inside, where the sumptuousness is unending. Click on the panorama below for a better view.

Mark Hellinger TheaterThe boxes are worthy of the world’s starriest celebrities, dignitaries and the like.

Mark Hellinger TheaterThe Hellinger is not without quirks, though! On the far sides of the house are narrow, two-seat rows. As beautiful as they are, they’re also kind of hilarious. “Enjoy your date in the privacy of your own row,” you imagine a box office guy telling a customer. “You’ll love it!”

Mark Hellinger TheaterBut these photos only hint at the thrill of seeing the space in person. Drop by some afternoon and bathe in the gold-leaf patina of it all. (The church’s hours and can be found HERE.)

As for whether or not the Hellinger will ever again house plays or musicals, a 2010 Playbill.com article says that the answer, for the forseeable future at least, is no. Ah well. One wishes that, back in 1989, a less theatrical space had been volunteered to the church (the Minskoff, anyone?) but such was not to be.

Still: At least the Hellinger still exists. Shines. Sparkles.

Mark Hellinger TheaterAll photos by theater-words.

CLICK HERE to see all the AMAZING SPACES of TheaTour!

RELATED POSTS…
Detroit’s MICHIGAN THEATER
Pittsburgh’s BYHAM THEATER
West VA’s SMOOT THEATER

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.

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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.

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Another lobby waits at the top…

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… 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.)

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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!

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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.

TheaTour!: The Detroit Masonic Temple

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Fun fact: Not all Masonic temples house self-flagelating albino monks or creepy, cloaked knights. (Thanks, DaVinci Code and Eyes Wide Shut for that one.) As I found out in Detroit—on tour with If You Give a Mouse a Cookie-–some such temples are pretty normal, pretty cool theaters. (As for the above photos, yes, that’s a prop milk jug. Such are the trappings of children’s theater.)

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Our particular haunt sported some religious-y flying buttresses and a Gothic, arched ceiling. But the rest of the digs were purely secular. Some good, blood-red “legs” (as they’re called in the biz) framed our singing and dancing…

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… and a set of dainty ropes started their trip to the fly tower, ready to open vents in case of fire.

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More vintage treasures were to be found here…

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and here…

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… but pity the actor forced to rely on this set of floor directions:

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After all, if they directed him here, to the American Horror Story-style loading dock, who knows what could happen to him?

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Even worse, how could he defend himself in the elevator from these terrifying miscreants?

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Hmm… maybe “Masonic Temples” aren’t so benign after all…

TheaTour!: The Michigan Theater

Michigan Theater, Ann Arbor Michigan

In Ann Arbor, the Michigan Theater sports a couple pizzazzy drinking fountains (above). In this otherwise straightforwardly outfitted venue, they’re the BANG… the sexy earrings, the stylish cufflinks.

Michigan Theater, Ann Arbor Michigan

The rest of the theater seems to shrug, “yeah, I’m good looking… (thank you, by the way)… but look at the play, not me, why don’t cha?” Sort of like a perfectly-dressed date: good looking, but not too effortful. Not self-obsessed. Into plays, not flash.

Michigan Theater, Ann Arbor Michigan

The metaphor continues. The lobby is the coiffure, something well-groomed and classy but not overwrought. Not over-gelled or sprayed or dyed.

Michigan Theater, Ann Arbor Michigan

The box office is the shoes, of course. Functional. Brown. Sturdy.

Michigan Theater, Ann Arbor Michigan

But where to kiss this date? Where are the lips?

Hmm…

TheaTour!: Stephens Auditorium

Can architecture be both modern and primal? Stephens Auditorium at the Iowa State Center, a recent stop of mine, argues yes! it can! For proof, first examine the jagged, toothlike boxes (above) than hang over the vast orchestra (below).

They’re equal parts Modernism and tribalism, reason and fury, security and danger, violent, giant spears put to contemporary use. Looking at them, I think of mod, Le Corbusier-like starchitects, but also of ancient, primitive South American clans. Quite the coupling, eh?

This odd dance of eras plays out all over the space, from the cavern of the house…

… to the starship-meets-temple exterior.

It’s even present in the exquisite patterns of béton brut (“raw concrete”) that tattoo the building’s in- and exteriors. (Béton brut is a gorgeous style in which the imprints of wooden, concrete molds are left intact rather than smoothed over.) It literally collides old world and new, embossing the present with the past.


Of course, down in the dressing rooms all that matters is makeup and props and water bottles… concerns, I might add, surely shared by those ritualistic, ancient tribespeople.

Past and present… not so separate after all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TheaTour!: The Rialto Square Theatre

And then there was the day we performed in the Titanic of theaters, the Rialto Square.

Marble, gold leaf, crystal—this baby had it all. First class, here we go!

We’re a children’s show (If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by TheatreWorksUSA, which, by the way doesn’t endorse these opinions) so we’re not exactly used to this grandeur. We play loads of fascinating, beautiful, inspiring houses (see other TheaTour! posts) but Versailles, they’re mostly not.

The Rialto? Versailles it mostly is.

The theater, which opened in 1926 as a movie palace, is mostly GrecoRoman in its style, but don’t miss the Byzantinism of the chandeliers and the decorative boxes, which are swathed in a plaster weave of Middle Eastern patterns.

A dramatically lit relief that appears to depict the birth of Venus is the focal point of the proscenium.

The legs of the proscenium, however, refuse to be outshone.

It’s hard to communicate the sheer size and enormity and relentless splendor of the Rialto, but this panorama gives that a shot.

As actors, my tour-mates and I almost always enter a theater through its backstage, only venturing into the lobby if time permits and access is permitted. Thank heaven, then, that we found our way to this, the mother of the mother of the mother of all lobbies and esplanades.

The columns are scagliola, or imitation marble, though the darker pedestals they stand on are real. The archway is inspired by the Arc de Triomph in Paris, and the esplanade is fashioned after (surprise surprise) the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles.

That esplanade opens up into a rotunda, a dizzying circle of grandeur and luxury.

Crowning the rotunda is a chandelier known as “The Dutchess.”

While the gold leaf tapers off backstage, there are plenty of good views to be had, this stack of stairways for one.

And then there’s the lovely star dressing room, which (like other parts of the theater) is rumored to be haunted. (The Syfy show Ghost Hunters recently made a visit to the Rialto to investigate some of the ghostly claims.)

Outside, an appropriately massive marquis and facade hint at the treats hidden within.

Again and again I’m astonished by the wealth of theatrical treasures that bejewel our United States. Perhaps its the vapors of election night still floating around me, but that wealth makes me feel, well, patriotic.

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All photos by theater-words.com

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.

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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.

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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.

TheaTour!: The Victoria Theatre

Making small talk with local theater crews can be tough going, but one question always seems to get a shutmouthed gang chattering: “Any ghost stories here worth knowing about?” Crew guys (and the occasional girl) become positively babbly when given the chance to tell a choice bit about a phantom producer, composer, or director.

Or, every so often, a performer. Even if most of the crew’s stories don’t concern actors, I love to imagine bits of their ghostly essence left behind, some magic sparks floating by that my castmates and I just might be able to breathe in and use onstage.

Those actor-ghost-sparks were of an especially starry caliber at Dayton, Ohio’s Victoria Theatre. Heavyweights like Carol Channing and Faye Dunaway once graced the stage, one of the oldest continuously run in the US. Backstage posters (above) hint at some of the stars of past, and make for fun pre-show perusal.


But beyond the posters, the celebrity meter gets even higher. Victoria alumni also include the likes of Edwin Forrest, Harry Houdini, Al Joson, Mark Twain, Sarah Bernhardt, the Marx Brothers, Fanny Brice, and many others. This view…


… was their view. This rake…

… is what Carol Channing herself saw as she descended that staircase, singing, “Hello, Dolly!” Do these actors’ ghosts peer down on their performer-descendents from these ornate boxes?

Or are they backstage, gleefully moving props or whispering encouragement?

Ask a stagehand. He’ll know.

Theatour!: Clowes Memorial Hall


Antiquity isn’t the only way to a theater geek’s heart—for proof, check out Clowe’s Memorial Hall, just outside Indianapolis, IN. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie played this alternately solemn and warm space for one short day, and we all enjoyed getting to perform in one of our first postwar, non-school theaters.

Like the National Theatre in London, Clowes (rhymes with “stews”) has a brutalist, Ziggurat-y exterior (above) that belies a somewhat softer and more colorful interior (below). Red velvet and nice lighting always do the trick, don’t they?

Note the boxes—narrow, cascading riverbeds of concrete that roll towards the stage.

Also of interest is the austere proscenium which makes no latter-day approximation of gold leaf or cherubs. Concrete and hard edges are everything.

The staircases, visible in the atrium, are equally grave but cool.


The theater is about to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, but thanks to good upkeep, doesn’t look it. Maintenance is ongoing: New carpeting and seats will be installed in the coming months.


The space isn’t devoid of funkiness. Sound panels on the ceiling are arranged in a depth pathwork whose appearance changes as you rise from one balcony to the next.

And then there are the actors, sure to funkify any room. Witness the lovely Adrienne Brown, primping in the recently renovated, spacious dressing rooms.


For more cool architecture in the style of Clowes, visit the awesome blog Fuck Yeah Brutalism for a sweet overdose. And for those more inclined toward the classic spaces, fear not: more old theaters are on the way.

UPDATE: ****** Clowes architect John Johansen died yesterday, at age 96. For more, click HERE.

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TheatreWorksUSA, the producer of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, does not endorse the opinions of theater-words.
All photos by theater-words.com.

TheaTour!: The Byham Theatre

I’ve visited enough theaters over the course of this tour to notice a common historical narrative. (In case you’re just joining us, I’m on the road with the kid’s musical If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.) For virtually every vintage house we’ve played, the story has gone something like this:

  1. The theatre is built as an early 20th century Vaudeville house.
  2. With the post-Depression decline of Vaudeville and the rise of film, the theater starts showing movies, and eventually (for some) X-rated movies.
  3. As it enters the 1970’s, the theater starts to decay.
  4. By the mid to late 80’s, it’s in the crosshairs of the wrecking ball.
  5. BUT! A local arts group or wealthy philanthropist steps in, saves the space, and kick starts an extensive renovation.
  6. Live acts return! Woohoo!

With minor variations, this is the story of Altoona, PA’s Mishler Theatre, Frederick, MA’s Weinberg Center, Petersburg WV’s Smoot Theatre, and surely countless other houses across the country. It’s also the story of Pittsburgh PA’s Byham Theatre, the latest stop on my tour. Built in 1904, the Byham is like many a great Vaudeville house: It’s neo-Classical, swarming with cherubs, and lathered in luxurious red velvet.

But as steps number one through five (above) reveal, a more complicated (and interesting) history is just beneath the surface. For one, somewhere in the Byham’s decaying period, the theater’s boxes were removed from either side of the stage. In the photo below, note the wide, empty stretches next to the proscenium—that’s where those boxes used to perch.

Backstage, pairs of archways hint at this history. Now used for storage, they were originally used as the entryways to the seats of the rich and notable.

What’s more, a haunting staircase stage right leads to the crumbling, vacant shells hidden from the audience by that plaster. (Those spaces are stacked on top of the leftover archways.)

But not all the history has been covered up. A nice fresco decorates the swath of ceiling just above the proscenium. If the nymphs seem a little manly, that’s because female models were unavailable thanks to the Victorianism of the day. (Another possibly apocryphal story goes that the nymphs were originally painted as men, but thinking them too fey, patrons demanded a sex change.)

Beyond the house is a lovely lobby. One of the first things you notice is that many of the ornate lighting fixtures prominently display their bulbs. Turns out electric lighting was a novelty back at the turn of the (other) century, and bulbs were flaunted rather than masked.

Before adopting its present moniker (adopted in 1995), the Byham was known as the Fulton, and earlier, the Gayety. The proof in this mosaic, unearthed during a renovation, greets theatergoers in the theater’s entryway.

Though it first opened on Halloween night and seats 1,313, the Byham is anything but unlucky. That it’s survived steps one through four is testament to Pittsburgh and, y’know, the power of art.

TheatreWorksUSA, the producer of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, does not endorse the opinions here reflected.

All photos by theater-words.com.

TheaTour!: The Smoot Theatre

Just off the shore of the Ohio River in Petersburg, West Virginia sits the beautiful Smoot Theatre, where I made a recent stop with my touring compatriots. (You may remember that I’m part of a traveling kid’s show—read more here and here.) The Smoot impressed us all with its classy historicity.

One of the first things you’ll notice in the Smoot is the intensity of the mezzanine’s rake. It’s quite steep, so much so that a local theater op told me “people always get dizzy up there.” Good thing, then, that there’s a unique, wooden railing bordering the lower edge of the level. Also worth noting are the colors of the seats. It’s hard to make it out in my shoddy iPhone photos, but those in the mezzanine and the front of the orchestra are red, while those to the rear of the orchestra are blue. Kooky but fun, huh?


See what I mean about  the rake? Watch your step, indeed!

The stage has remained untouched since the Smoot opened in 1926, and (unlike most decks) is unpainted. Interestingly, it’s made out of two different materials: hardwood is farther downstage, while softer wood is upstage. Why? It’s easier to secure sets to the softer wood.


Like most Vaudeville houses that saw fortunes decline in the years following the depression, a movie studio (Warner Bros. in this case) bought the theater and turned it into a film house. Though the theater has now returned to legitimacy (after a close encounter with demolition in 1989), the beautiful, antique projectors still point to the stage from a booth at the rear of the mezzanine.


As a movie palace, the Smoot made use of the Vitaphone, a contraption that heralded the end of silent film and the birth of the “talkies.” (The Vitaphone, as any theater geek knows, is a key plot point in Kaufman and Hart’s classic Once in a Lifetime: “He first turned down the Vitaphone!” Anyone?) In a great move, the folks at the Smoot recently repainted this “sensational” advertisement:

Backstage are some nice relics…

…and the dressing rooms (separated by the original brick—no plaster, thank you very much!) are wonderfully romantic.

All in all, she’s a beaut, so much so that all of us onstage felt like we were on Broadway—the space somehow elevates you, makes you feel like what you’re doing matters.

Good stuff all around.

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TheatreWorksUSA, the producer of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, does not endorse the opinions here reflected.

All photos by theater-words.com.

TheaTour!: The Weinberg Center

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie continues its grand parade through the Eastern US and Midwest, and recently played the beautiful, historic Weinberg Center in Frederick, Maryland. (Check out Mouse/Cookie‘s first stop here.) Elegantly preserved and maintained, Frederick is a plumb of a town, all brick townhouses and human-sized scale, and its local chez du theatre, The Weinberg Center, matches this aesthetic perfectly.

The Weinberg’s façade is classic and inviting, and welcomes patrons into a passageway that opens up into a spacious lobby and house. It’s the kind of “bottleneck” construction many New York theater builders used on expensive 42nd Street, where a small marquis and entryway would lead to a theater actually situated on 41st or 43rd Street. (The American Airlines and New Amsterdam Theaters are good examples of this.)

Inside, 1,500 seats are split between a vast orchestra and a smaller mezzanine; simple yet pretty murals line the walls. Playing the space, you’re struck by the “shoebox” nature of its architecture: it’s much longer than it is wide.

The stage door is appropriately Rent-tastic, and makes for appropriately ego-inflating coming and going.

When the building first opened in 1926 (it was then called the Tivoli Theater), the Frederick Daily News announced, “Frederick may indeed feel proud of her handsome new theatre… The erection of such a beautiful amusement house is in itself a tribute to the community. It demonstrates in a most outstanding way the faith that a great theatrical organization has in the future of our city.” (Source.)

That faith, it seems, has been borne out.

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(This writeup, by the way, does not represent the opinions of TheatreWorksUSA, the producer of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.)

All photos by theater-words.

TheaTour!: The Mishler Theatre

I generally try to keep myself and my personal experiences as far away from this blog as possible. After all, there are more enough self-obsessed Internet “writers” to go around, so why add my voice to the whiny chorus?

But grant me this moment of divulsion! In addition to curating this blog, I perform, and my current gig is taking me on a whirlwind tour of the American Northeast, Midwest, and Canada. The show in question is based on that classic children’s book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, and is produced by TheatreWorksUSA. (By the way, the opinions reflected herein do not represent those of TheatreWorksUSA or its employees. Gosh, that was fun, wasn’t it?)

The madcap pace of life on the road is an awesome hoot, and a major part of that fun is the sheer volume of new spaces to which we are exposed. A single week can contain several different theaters, all of varying history and style. For a theater nerd like me (and you, I presume? I mean, why else would you be here?) it’s a thrilling chocolate-box grab-bag of architectural treats and surprises.

Living in New York, one quickly becomes familiar with the major (and not-so-major) venues that speckle town. And, New York provincialism being what it is, the idea that those theaters constitute the entirety of the American theater inevitably infects even the most openminded theatergoer.

But nothing could be farther from the truth. Turns out that unsung theaters gems dot our land’s Interstates, back roads, and small towns. And: I am here to tell you about them! With that, I hereby begin the oh-so-exciting “TheaTour!” series. (Exclamation points enliven even the dullest of topics. Right, Oliver!, Oklahoma!, and Snoopy!!!?)

Today’s entree is the spectacular Mishler Theatre, Altoona, PA’s glorious take on the classic, Broadway space of the early 20th Century. We of Mouse/Cookie were fortunate enough to open our show at this treasure, and boy did we enjoy it, from one sumptuousness wing to the other.

Some history: According to the Mishler employees nice enough to show me around, the theater was a holdout from the Vaudeville Circuit. But like many a 42nd Street space, legit performance eventually gave way to the grime and sleaze of movies, then X-rated fare. The theater was slated for demolition in 1965, but local arts groups purchased the space a spruced it up with an exquisite refurbishment.

Here are some shots of the theater’s current state. First, note the elegant draping of the orchestra pit and the ornate, cherub-y boxes. (Don’t even think about trying to sit there during a show—are all privately owned.)

The superior plasterwork is also worth checking out.


The view from the mezzanine is pretty great. (The balcony, used mostly for tech purposes, is set with wooden planks instead of the red seats used everywhere else.)


Then there’s the chandelier, which was purchased in New York or Hollywood—the story varies based on which local is giving you the history

Backstage, a vintage hemp system runs the flies. Our tech supervisor assured us it’s a bitch to operate, but boy does it set this nerdy heart aflutter.

And then there’s the exterior: classic, classy, appropriate.

Stunning, right?

The Mishler crew assured us that the theater is most definitely haunted. Would that I, too, could wander such beautiful halls in the next life…

The “Most Promising Season Award” goes to…

Playwrights Horizons! Woohoo! Oh, the honor, oh the glory!

But really, was there every a question? Playwrights is always pretty great, but 2012/13 looks like it’s going to be SENSATIONAL. Any lineup that includes Annie Baker AND Amy Herzog AND Greenberg/Frankel/Korie, plus many others, is pretty much the bee’s knees by me. Here are the tantalizing titles and their respective slots:

1. DETROIT, the “better than Broadway” slot.
Initially scheduled for the Rialto this past spring, Broadway’s loss is Playwrights’ gain: Anne Kauffman is sure to steer this tale of economic woe into the tragic stratosphere. Oh, and it’s already got a Pulitzer nom. Whatever.

2. THE FLICK, the “our young writers are better than yours” slot, Part I.
If you don’t already love Annie Baker, you should. She writes plays, not plays that want to be movies, and her latest—something about the last 35 millimeter film projector in New England—practically screams “beautiful! melancholic! theatrical!” Resident genius Sam Gold helms.

3. THE GREAT GOD PAN, the “our young writers are better than yours” slot, Part II.
First of all, there’s the brilliant title. Secondly, there’s the super hotshot team of rising stars Amy Herzog and Carolyn Cantor. Thirdly… I don’t even know. I just want to see this.

4. FAR FROM HEAVEN, the “2013 Tony Awards” slot.
Let’s be real: this one is gonna charm the hell out of Mr. New York Times, skip east to Times Square, reopen “with sharper focus and impossibly fuller performances,” and clean up at the Tonys. Because with Richard Greenberg, Scott Frankel, Michael Korie, Michael Greif, and Kelli O’Hara on board, IT SHOULD.

5. THE WHALE, the “The Book of Mormon for off-Broadway” slot.
Aside from telling the story of a 600-pound man (!!!), this one’s about Mormon country, and Mormons are where it’s at right now. So, Sam Hunter’s play is bound to be all zeigeisty and amazing. Davis “I directed February House, what what” McCallum leads the way.

6. THE CALL, the “you’re going out there a youngster but coming back a star” slot.
Not gonna lie: Never heard of Tanya Barfield, the brains behind this one. But Leigh Silverman is directing, and, as In the Wake and Go Back to Where You Are as my witnesses, she and Barfield are sure to deliver.

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So congratulations, Playwrights. May your season charm, upset, anger, entertain, enliven, scramble, and uplift us into theatrical ecsatsy. Cuz that’s what good plays do, y’all.

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