Renovations are underway at Broadway's smallest theatre, the Helen Hayes on West 44th Street, which is getting an extensive interior and exterior makeover.
A large dumpster parked in front of the 104-year-old playhouse is being filled with construction debris; inside, the seats have mostly been removed.
Second Stage Theatre, the not-for-profit Off-Broadway company founded in 1979 by director Carole Rothman and producer Robyn Goodman, purchased the 1912-vintage building in April 2015 for a reported $24.7 million. The Hayes was one of the last independently owned playhouses on Broadway. The last show to play there before renovations began was 2016 Tony Award winner The Humans, which ended its run there July 24 and transferred to the Schoenfeld Theatre, where it is still playing.
On the outside, the Hayes will get a new larger LED marquee, the awning will be replaced and the small four-story annex that stands between the Hayes and the St. James Theatre will be substantially rebuilt.
On the inside the stage will be expanded, the lobby will be expanded, the stairs will be renovated and the building will get new carpeting.
The New York Landmarks Preservation Commission approved the renovation plans on November 24, 2015. The cost of the renovation has not been made public. Second Stage had previously announced that it would begin renovations and upgrades to the theatre in 2016 and will stage its first production on Broadway during the 2017-18 season.
The renovations were presented to the commission by Second Stage executive director Casey Reitz, preservation consultant Elise Quasebarth of Higgins Quasebarth & Partners and architect Michael Fischer of the Rockwell Group.
There was no word on whether the number of seats will change. The Hayes previously held 597 seats.
With this new home, Second Stage will be the only theatre company on Broadway dedicated exclusively to developing and producing works by living American playwrights.
"This is an amazing moment, not only for Second Stage Theatre, but for American playwrights and American theatregoers," said Second Stage founder and artistic director Carole Rothman in April at the time of the closing. "Second Stage takes the commitment to producing new plays very seriously. We pledge to keep our new theatre a bustling center of activity on Broadway, nurturing not only new plays from established and emerging writers, but also feeding a new, diverse generation of theatregoers who will help keep American plays at the heart of the Broadway experience."
Second Stage executive director Casey Reitz added, "We are very grateful to the many foundations, private donors and Second Stage Trustees who have confidence in this project, as well as our phenomenal staff and professional colleagues who have worked tirelessly to make this very exciting moment possible. Owning the Helen Hayes Theatre will finally provide Second Stage with a permanent home in midtown Manhattan and a firm foundation for long-term planning and financial stability. We are thrilled for the long-anticipated opportunity to be part of Broadway and to renovate this beautiful intimate theatre in the heart of Times Square."
It was announced in 2008 that Second Stage acquired the rights to purchase the Hayes, but as of Feb. 17, 2015 (the planned closing date on the theatre), Second Stage did not have $25 million required to close on the property and requested a 90-day extension.
It was reported in December 2014 that Second Stage was in the process of raising a total of $58 million to own and operate the theatre, produce desired works and for construction costs.
The purchase makes Second Stage the fourth non-profit company to operate a Tony-eligible Broadway theatre. (The others are Lincoln Center Theater with the Vivian Beaumont, Manhattan Theatre Club with the Samuel J. Friedman; and Roundabout Theatre Company with the American Airlines, the Stephen Sondheim and Studio 54.)
Second Stage's hope for the Broadway residence is to dedicate the home exclusively to the development and presentation of contemporary American theatrical productions. The Pulitzer-winning Next to Normal and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee are among the Second Stage works that transferred to Broadway.
It was previously reported that Second Stage is working with architect David Rockwell on "fresh and contemporary" ideas for the marquee, lobby and auditorium, dressing rooms and office space.
The company has officially enlisted The Rockwell Group to make renovations and updates to the 103-year-old landmark building.
"When Second Stage commissioned us to renovate the Helen Hayes Theatre I couldn't think of a more perfect project," said Rockwell, founder and president of Rockwell Group. "Broadway theatres contribute so much to the cultural vibrancy of New York that re-imagining this architecturally unique theatre for a new generation of theatergoers is a once in a lifetime opportunity."
A major contributor to Second Stage's renovation of the Helen Hayes Theatre is the City of New York.
"Second Stage's expansion into the Helen Hayes Theatre will bring joy to that many more people," said Manhattan Borough president Gale A. Brewer. "I'm proud to have helped with funding Second Stage in the past, because they’re the kind of institution that enriches our city, showcasing the work of emerging artists and offering multiple programs to bring theatre to wider audience."
The company will also continue to present productions at its current Off-Broadway homes: the 296-seat Tony Kiser Theatre on West 43rd Street and the 108-seat McGinn/Cazale Theatre.
(Updated October 3, 2016)