ON THE TOWN -- Sept. 1996
Come and meet, those dancing feet. . . They're coming back, after years of turning elsewhere, the tap-shoed and well-heeled are returning to the fabled stretch between 7th and 8th avenues in New York. . . On the avenue I'm taking you to. . . A rebirth is taking place here, thanks to the city and state of New York, with the help of some top names in entertainment. Even today, as you visit the historic work-in-progress, you can find gems among the ruins. As part of your next theatre evening on the town, preview the excitement to come on . . . 42nd Street.
If not for the popular musical, who would recall that the stretch of 42nd St. west of B'way ever reigned as the world's entertainment capital? In fact, from 1900 to 1929 it nobly wore that crown. The street was lined with glorious theatres: the Liberty, New Republic, Times Square, Victory, Selwyn, Apollo, Harris, New Amsterdam and Empire. The stock market crash and the Depression forced theatre owners into bankruptcy. Theatre regressed to burlesque, then to motion pictures and ultimately to adult uses and street crime. By the 1970's 42nd St. had deteriorated to a vanguard of moral decline.
That was until 1980, when New York City and State officials joined to create the 42nd Street Development Fund. The Fund is committed to reclaiming 42nd Street as New York's premier destination for entertainment and availing it to the broadest cross-section of New Yorkers and visitors. Consider the proposed site plan:
The New Victory Theatre recently underwent a complete renovation at a cost of $11.4 million. Originally built as the Republic Theater by Oscar Hammerstein in 1900, this was the first legitimate theatre on 42nd Street. On December 11, 1995, the theatre reopened as New York's first full-time, year-round professional theatre for kids.
Adjacent to the New Victory is the Lyric Theatre, which Livent, the Canadian entertainment/production company (Show Boat), will unite with the Apollo Theatre to create an 1,800 seat B'way musical venue. Across the street are three theatres: Liberty, Harris and Empire; this fall, construction is scheduled to begin to convert this space into both Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum and the country's largest multiplex cinema. Nearby stands the New Amsterdam Theatre, leased by the Walt Disney Company. Disney is currently restoring the theatre, and excitement abounds about future musical productions. Construction began in fall '95; completion is expected by spring '97. The theatre is scheduled to reopen May 20, 1997 with King David, a new musical by Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast) and Tim Rice (Evita).
Developments of all kinds are in the works, including the Tishman Hotel on the northwest corner slated to open fall 1999. Bet on a Disney store to open soon. Take a look, quick, as the 42nd St. of yesteryear recovers the glory of its past.
-- By Sandra Mardenfeld