In November, Broadway's new Ford Center for the Performing Arts will be filled with the sound of Ragtime, but for now, the cavernous excavation and construction site is filled with the sound of hammers, drills and trundling workmen.
At a site-specific press conference, April 10, Livent chairman Garth Drabinsky was the only person not wearing a white plastic hard hat, as reporters and photographers gazed down at the lower level of the soon-to-be mammoth theatre.
"The steel framing is essentially complete," said Drabinsky, "and we have begun construction of the building's exterior skin, known as the envelope." Already "poured" are the orchestra floor and lobby and the dress circle lobby. The roof goes on in May. "I wanted to open the site up for reporters to take a look this week," Drabinsky said, "because next week the building will be enclosed."
Upon completion, the Ford center will have 1,839 total "plush, upholstered seats," 1,100 in the orchestra, 370 in the dress circle and 350 in the balcony. The floor will be raked for "superb sightlines" and the back row of the orchestra will be only 86.6 feet from the front of the proscenium (which is 103 feet from the back row of the balcony). The stage will be 56 feet deep, 31 feet high and 97 feet wide. "The Gershwin Theatre is currently the biggest house on Broadway," Drabinsky said, "with 4,400 square feet of stage space. We'll have over 5,000 -- with dressing rooms to accommodate 70 performers." Drabinsky told Playbill On-Line that, in keeping with designing a new Broadway theatre, the builders are also making bathroom facilities twice the size of typical houses, hopefully easing the crunch at intermission. "I can't vouch for an audience with really weak bladders, though," Drabinsky said.
To alleviate congestion of a different sort, the theatre will have two box offices, one at the 42nd Street main entrance, the other on 43rd Street to eliminate "traffic flow conflict between audiences attending a specific performance and ticket buyers for future performances." The theatre will also boast two rehearsal halls, of 2,500 and 1,200 square feet. The outside of the theatre will incorporate elements of classical and Italian Renaissance style and be in keeping with the original design of the Lyric Theatre. The entire structure will incorporate elements of the old and new, since the theatre rises on the site of two classic 42nd Street legitimate houses, the Lyric and the Apollo. The Lyric was completely demolished this past fall, except for a landmarked exterior wall. The Apollo stage has been preserved, as have architectural details from both theatres, which have been stored in a warehouse and will be incorporated into the single new theatre.
Asked about whether the New York Times building across the street would present a noise problem because of the loading and unloading of trucks, Drabinsky said, "We've taken extraordinary measures towards soundproofing. Plus, hopefully in October, the Times won't be doing its loading here."
Speaking of loading, Ragtime begins its load-in of sets in November, with previews set for Dec. 26. The show will open Jan. 18, 1998.
Asked if Livent had further plans to build in New York, Drabinsky said, "We have a new theatre going up in Chicago, and we're building a second, smaller theatre for plays and more intimate musicals in Toronto. That's enough to handle right now."