A little more than a year after Manhattan Theatre Club announced its plans to refurbish and relight the crumbling Biltmore Theatre on Broadway, the Off-Broadway troupe's leaders, board members, special guests and Broadway stars will appear Dec. 12 at a "groundbreaking" inside the theatre.
Tony Roberts and Valerie Harper, stars of MTC's Broadway hit, The Tale of the Allergist's Wife, will be among those at the 11 AM ceremonial groundbreaking, which begins many months of construction and renovation of the 1,000-seat theatre. Others present at this first step toward making the Off Broadway nonprofit troupe a Broadway nonprofit troupe will be artistic director Lynne Meadow, executive producer Barry Grove, architects from Polshek Partnership Architects (who will oversee the changes at the historic house), city and state government representatives and more. The theatre is expected to be operational by 2003, and the price tag was previously said to be $18 million.
The restoration of the Biltmore, which has been closed since 1987 and damaged over the years by fire, flood and water leakage, is made possible by Biltmore 47 Associates LLC, which is seeking to create a "mixed-use property" at the site. The company was formed by the developer The Jack Parker Corporation and its affiliates and the developer The Moinian Group and its affiliates.
Further details about the property are expected be announced Dec. 12.
* Manhattan Theatre Club is one of New York City's leading nonprofit, Off Broadway theatres, operating out of two spaces in City Center. The company premiered Proof and The Tale of the Allergist's Wife, in 1999-2000, and both went on to Broadway runs that continue today. Proof snagged the Best Play Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Catching up with its nonprofit rival, the Roundabout Theatre Company, which renovated the Selwyn Theatre as the American Airlines Theatre, MTC will, with the Biltmore renovation, have a Broadway presence and be eligible for Tony Awards.
MTC and involved parties announced the Biltmore plan Nov. 22, 2000. The Biltmore is the 75-year-old Broadway house where Hair played. Polshek Partnership Architects — with Carnegie Hall, The Public Theater and The Rose Center for Earth and Science to its credit — will design the rehabilitation. The 1,000-seat theatre will be reconfigured for 623 seats, and MTC will continue to operates its two Off-Broadway spaces at City Center.
Following a fire in 1987, the theatre was closed, and the building suffered damage from rain coming through holes in the ceiling and abuse from vandals.
"We are thrilled that after many years, our search for an additional theatre is now complete," MTC executive producer Barry Grove and artistic director Lynne Meadow said, in a joint statement last year. "The now derelict walls of the Biltmore on West 47th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue virtually resonate with the history of American theatre."
"We are thrilled to be rescuing the historic Biltmore Theatre, home to such legendary productions as Hair, Butterflies Are Free, Barefoot in the Park and Deathtrap," Adam Glick, president of the Jack Parker Corporation, the managing partner of Biltmore 47 Associates, LLC, said last year.
The Biltmore opened Dec. 7, 1925, with a play called Easy Come, Easy Go, a farce by Owen Davis that moved from the Cohan Theatre. The house was built by the Chanin brothers and designed by Herbert J. Krapp. The Federal Theatre Project presented works there in the 1930 and the theatre was later run by Warner Bros. as a home for theatre director George Abbott's productions. My Sister Eileen had a healthy run there, as did The Heiress. From 1952-61, the theatre was leased to CBS. In 1961, George Abbott directed Take Her, She's Mine there. Other works over the years included Lily Tomlin in Appearing Nitely, To Grandmother's House We Go, The Robber Bridegroom, Knock, Knock, Nuts and The American Clock.
— By Kenneth Jones