Roundabout Looks for $7 Million to Move to 42nd St. By 2000

News   Roundabout Looks for $7 Million to Move to 42nd St. By 2000
 
The Roundabout Theatre Company further unveiled plans Feb. 11 for its renovation of -- and January 2000 move to -- the historic Selwyn Theatre on 42nd Street.

The Roundabout Theatre Company further unveiled plans Feb. 11 for its renovation of -- and January 2000 move to -- the historic Selwyn Theatre on 42nd Street.

Christopher Plummer and Stockard Channing, alums of the nonprofit's past productions, were among city officials and Roundabout administrators gathered at the Hudson Theatre in New York City to say that $7 million of a $17 million capital campaign is still needed to complete the renovation of the 1918 legit house.

Since 1965, the Roundabout has staged revivals of Ibsen, Shaw, Chekov, Miller and musicals, as well as New York premieres and world premiere commissions.

The troupe, headed by artistic director Todd Haimes and managing director Ellen Richard, is the "closest thing" there is to a "national theatre," opined Plummer, who has played in Harold Pinter at the Roundabout.

"But," he said of the nonprofit, "we don't make any money, we raise it." Among highlights of the announcement of the $17 million capital campaign:

*$10 million has already been pledged to the $17 million goal. The State of New York has contributed $4.25 million and additional money from the Times Square Public Purpose Fund and Roundabout board member Bob Donnalley and his wife, Cory, enabled the Roundabout to "green-light" the Selwyn move.

*The Roundabout is hoping the corporate and private sector will jump on the bandwagon and pledge money, taking advantage of "naming opportunities" -- $10 million, for example, will get the donor's name on the theatre marquee.

*Construction is ongoing at the Selwyn and occupancy is expected in January 2000. Until that point, Roundabout will stage a makeshift season in various spaces, including the Gramercy Theatre (127 E. 23rd St.).

*The theatre will seat 750 rather than the original 1,100. Several hundred seats will be lost to create leg room and wider seats.

*The original design elements of the intimate "early Italian Renaissance" inspired interior will be restored or recreated. Raymond Pepi's Building Conservation Associates, Inc., whose previous projects include the New Amsterdam renovation, is preservation consultant and Richard Pilbrow of Theatre Projects Consultants is theatre design consultant and Tony Award-winning set designer Tony Walton is design consultant.

*Bathrooms, particularly ladies' rooms, will be plentiful.

*The proscenium theatre will have a new orchestra pit that can be covered to slightly extend the apron of the stage to a vague thrust.

*A penthouse lobby and VIP lounge will be added on above the auditorium ceiling, recalling the days when roof garden parties with dining and entertainment were the early-century custom atop Manhattan theatres.

*The building's adjacent courtyard space will be the site of the "service core" -- providing enlarged and additional dressing rooms, wardrobe, green room, new elevators and mechanical shafts.

*Basement expansion will provide a second stair from the orchestra to the lower level, leading to the Roundabout offices.

*The space will be controlled by the Roundabout and has a long lease, according to Cora Cahan, president of The New 42nd Street Inc. The Roundabout lost its lease at the Criterion Center in Times Square because the landlord chose to excercise a two-year eviction clause in order to take advantage of the booming real estate climate.

*Although the Selwyn entrance is on 42nd Street, most of it rests on 43rd Street. The historic facade and entrance will remain on 42nd St.

*

Among spaces Roundabout Theatre Company has played are the basement of a supermarket in Chelsea, a movie theatre on 23rd Street, a converted theatre (once Tammany Hall) in Union Square and its current two-theatre Times Square location. Roundabout operates under a LORT contract with Actors' Equity.

*

According to Playbill historian Louis Botto, author of "At This Theatre," the Selwyn was named for Broadway producer Arch Selwyn, opening Oct. 2, 1918, with a play called Information, Please by Jane Murfin and Jane Cowl, starring Cowl. The opening night program boasted that it was the "most modern and complete theatre in the country and that it cost half a million to build."

It was designed by George Keister in the Italian Renaissance style and featured a novelty for that time: a lounge where both men and women could smoke. It had a single balcony and 1,100 seats.

Among productions there were Leslie Carter and John Drew in The Circle (1921); Charlot's Revue of 1926 starring Gertrude Lawrence, Beatrice Lillie and Jack Buchanan; The Royal Family (1928); Noel Coward and Beatrice Lillie in This Year of Grace (1928); Cole Porter's Wake Up and Dream (1929) and the brilliant revue, Three's A Crowd starring Fred Allen, Clifton Webb, Libby Holman, Tamara Geva and in the chorus, Fred MacMurray.

During the 1920s, the Selwyn occasionally booked films. From 1934 on the Selwyn showed films but in 1950 tried an experiment: It combined a film with a 60-minute live version of the plays, The Respectful Prostitute and Ladies Night in a Turkish Bath. It didn't work. Films were shown until the Selwyn closed in the l990s.

The Wooster Group's production of The Hairy Ape played the dilapidated Selwyn in 1997.

-- By Kenneth Jones
and David Lefkowitz

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