Al Hirschfeld, the illustrator who has chronicled 75 years of American theatrical history, will have a Broadway theatre named after him on his 100th birthday, June 21, 2003, when the Martin Beck Theatre on 45th Street gets re-dubbed the Al Hirschfeld Theatre.
Rocco Landesman of Jujamcyn Theatres, which owns and operates the Beck and a number of other legit houses on Broadway, made the announcement in The New York Times, which has given Hirschfeld a gallery in its Arts & Leisure section for many years. His precise black-ink line drawings of Broadway stars are known the world over, and the white-bearded master was the subject of a film documentary, "The Line King."
"I'm startled: it's incredible," Hirschfeld told The Times. "I'm touched."
Landesman told the paper: "It struck me as the most natural and obvious thing in the world. He's such an iconic figure. When I was a kid, the way I visualized Broadway was Al Hirschfeld. As far as I knew, Hirschfeld was Broadway."
This is the first time a Broadway theatre has been named after a visual artist, though houses have been named for playwrights (Neil Simon, Eugene O'Neill), producers (Belasco, John Golden, Alex A. Aarons and Vinton Freedley), critics (Brooks Atkinson, Walter Kerr). While honoring the beloved Hirschfeld, the name change all but banishes German-born Martin Beck, the vaudeville producer who built the Byzantine-style Moorish theatre, into obscurity. The Times reported a plaque honoring Beck will be unveiled at the theatre he opened in 1924 (the first production was Mme. Pompadour). The Alvin Theatre, named for the merging of first syllables of the first names in "Alex" Aarons and "Vinton" Freedley, was renamed the Neil Simon in 1983. Aarons and Freedley were hugely successful vaudeville and legit producers as well.
The Times reported a celebration honoring Hirschfeld's 100th birthday will be performed under the direction of Jerry Zaks at the Hirschfeld next summer. It will benefit the Actors' Fund of America.
Jujamcyn plans to create a new marquee for the house and add a gallery of Hirschfelds.
Still working daily and actively attending the theatre, Hirschfeld, 99, is a beloved fixture in the community, and every actor in any media probably hopes to be immortalized by the fanciful caricatures he creates.
The next show (and perhaps the last show) slated for the Martin Beck Theatre is Man of La Mancha starring Brian Stokes Mitchell, who previously played the Beck in Kiss Me, Kate. La Mancha begins previews Nov. 19 after a tryout in Washington, DC. The Beck's past tenants have included Sweet Smell of Success, Moon Over Buffalo, Guys and Dolls, Into the Woods, Grand Hotel, Bye Bye Birdie, The Crucible and many more over the decades.