It hasn’t housed a show since 1989.
Sadness of sadnesses—I know. Despite this shockingly gorgeous interior…
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.
The 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!”
But 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.