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!

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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?

Drifting Awake

Stone Street, hiding between towers

Just when your daily commute seems so predictable—when internal GPS takes over and nary a blaring traffic snarl can lift your gaze; when New York becomes nothing more than work and subways and sleep—that’s when the city throws a curveball and bends unexpectedly, when, POW!, a shocking, wonderful incongruity sprouts from the pavement and startles you into smelling the organic, fair-trade artisan coffee.

Take one false step in the roaring canyons of the Financial District and you’ll find yourself on one such jarring sprout. “Stone Street,” as it’s called, is a tiny 19th century holdout amidst the soaring corporate jungle on Manhattan’s lower tip, a bizarre slice of human-scale antiquity that sticks out like a small, cobblestoned thumb. No more than a few blocks of old-world, three- to six-story brick buildings, Stone Street is less remarkable for its quaint charm than for the way it contrasts with its infinitely taller and more severe neighbors. How did this place survive? you think on your way to, say, Goldman Sachs. What kept the skyscrapers out?

It was, predictably, a combination of public and private efforts that kept Stone Street from total decay on the one hand, and expensive construction crews on the other—read more about that story here. What remains, then, is a remnant of the haunts from Dutch settlers and the generations of builders that followed them.

But somewhere along the way, as other streets kept changing, Stone Street froze, and what’s left behind is a kind of screwy anachronism, a visual lesson in mankind’s endless sprint from past to future. Inviting stoops here, 100-story pillars there—a clear reality gives way to an odd optic scramble.

Such is the stuff as plays are made on. Mission Drift, the latest work from The TEAM, is a mixed-drink of a show with a similarly bi-cultural, split-focus sensibility, one part 17th century New Amsterdam, one part 2008 Las Vegas. In this rock musical, the story of a Dutch couple (“Catalina” and “Joris”) gets intercut with the more modern blues of an unemployed waitress (“Joan”); the resulting patchwork is a stab at determining the roots and nature of American capitalism.

[Read more…]

Never Been North of 96th Street?

A little lyric from “In the Heights” wiggles into my mind whenever I approach my neighborhood subway:

Now, You’re probably thinkin,
“I’m up shit’s creek
I never been north of ninety-
sixth street”

It’s a goodhearted dig at upscale Broadway audiences. It’s also the momentary jingle of my commute to and from 96th Street.

Musical landmarks litter New York, but the conductor of my brain never tires of this musical flash.

High Line Theatrics

The High Line Park (photo by Iwan Baan, thehighline.org)

 

Ticket prices got you down? Head to the High Line above 10th Ave for a free show where New York herself is the star. This park, a repurposed elevated track, is an exercise in “city as theater:” By framing and focusing our otherwise scattered attention, the High Line reveals New York as the glittery, every-changing diva she really is. Walking along this shrubbery promenade, you stop, breathe, and really see where you are. Is this not the highest task of art? [Read more…]

Fleet Week on Broadway

REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Fleet Week is the unofficial opening day of summer in New York. Uniformed sailors float in for sweaty city fun, wandering the streets in search of a sweet, tangy bite of the Big Apple. The men and women are homogenous émigrés in sea of dissonant color and style, beacons of sameness in a city that idolizes individuality.

Paradoxically, it’s those very uniforms that stand out most in a crowd, a fact apparent at a Fleet Week performance of “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo” I attended.

[Read more…]

Dancing in the Aisles

Only in New York! Check out these hilarious theater-inspired signs in the 72nd Street Trader Joe’s:

      [Read more…]

“Arcadia” and the Grid

Todd Heisler/ nytimes.com

A recent Times article commemorated the 200th birthday of “The Grid:” that hard-knuckled, 90-degree matrix that set New York’s streets in unsurprising, rectangulinear order. Excepting some of downtown’s eccentricities, the feature tells us, the grid “gave developers and, later, tourists order, access and predictability.”

How very Newtonian, Tom Stoppard might say. His “Arcadia,” a revival of which just opened on Broadway, explores similar ideas of order and chaos, predictability and chance by alternating between two periods, ultimately tracking physics’ and philosophy’s journey from optimism (in 1809) to a more complicated, less organized universe (in 2011).

The New York Grid could be said to represent classicism, or 1809 “Arcadia:” It’s reasoned, clear, and lucid. It’s the ordered cosmos Thomasina, “Arcadia’s” brilliant, young heroine, is taught to see. Whether it’s Fermat’s last theorem, advanced algebra, or any of the other brain-cramping topics her tutor brings up, order is the final, reachable goal. Surprise is tamed by logic and structure.

New York’s city commissioners, working a mere two years after the fictional Thomasina, operated under similarly classically based, optimistic principles. Sam Roberts (author of the Times article) writes, “The urban grid goes back beyond Hippodamus of Miletus, the Greek urban planner, who, like the street commissioners, viewed the matrix as a manifestation of ‘the rationality of civilized life.’” City structure could manufacture personal integrity, officials believed.

[Read more…]

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