Clarifying earlier reports, including an initial story by Playbill On-Line, the Roundabout Theatre Company has officially announced that it will assume a commercial lease on the American Place Theatre (111 W. 46 St.) in November 2002. The nation's second largest nonprofit said it plans to eventually present the bulk of its Off-Broadway productions there.
In a written statement, Roundabout artistic director Todd Haimes said the company would rename the theatre the Laura Pels Theatre, in honor of the producer, philanthropist, long-term Roundabout board member and Theatre de l’Atelier in Paris owner, Laura Pels.
Roundabout said that "following an extensive renovation expected to be finished by spring of 2003, the new Laura Pels Theatre will be home to Roundabout’s Off-Broadway productions, focusing on revisited classic plays and new works by established writers." Roundabout has been temporarily staging its Off-Broadway productions at the Gramercy Theatre at 127 E. 23 St. and that arrangement will continue through 2002.
Roundabout's naming choice marks the second time the theatre company has honored Laura Pels in this way. Pels is president of the Laura Pels Foundation and the Laura Pels International Foundation, which promote outstanding theatrical productions and theater organizations around the world. In its last incarnation at Times Square's Criterion Center, the Roundabout named its second stage in Pels' honor to recognize her "extensive production support and contribution to the theater’s vitality." It was the need for expansion and an impending eviction from the Criterion that led to Roundabout's $27 million renovation of the American Airlines Theatre at 227 W. 42 St., now its new permanent home.
“We were deeply saddened when we lost the beautiful Laura Pels Theatre,” explained Todd Haimes in a written statement. “We have been searching for a permanent Off-Broadway venue since our lease at the Criterion Center was cut short and are thrilled to have a new location for the Laura Pels Theatre. We have been fortunate that the Gramercy Theatre has been a perfect home-away-from home for us during this transition.” As reported earlier, the American Place Theatre was one of four venues built under a special 1971 zoning amendment passed by the City Planning Commission under then NYC Mayor John Lindsay. It has been leased to American Place for just $5 a year. American Place's original lease was extended at least once. American Place's current lease is up in June 2002. Roundabout is expected to step in and assume control of the space at something closer to market rates. At this time, American Place's theatre comprises three theatre spaces; the Main Stage theatre can seat as many as 384; the First Floor theatre seats 74; and the Sub Plot theatre seats up to 74 as well. While renovations at 111 W. 46 St. are indicated by the Roundabout, specifics were not available. There was no word on the scope of the work Roundabout has planned there and whether there will be a major capital campaign. Roundabout just opened the 750-seat American Airlines Theatre with a revival of the 1939 Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman comedy, The Man Who Came To Dinner starring Nathan Lane and Jean Smart, and directed by Jerry Zaks. Second only to Lincoln Center in size, the nonprofit theatre company also has a long-term lease for Studio 54, where Cabaret is playing.
For the time being, Theatre for a New Audience has announced that it will present a two show season at American Place featuring Edward Bond's Saved and Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, the latter marking Sir Peter Hall's Off-Broadway directorial debut. When American Place quits 111 W. 46 St., it will take that name with it. Sources said that American Place is looking for new space and plans to continue its programs, including the Los Angeles and New York chapters of the arts and education program, "Literature to Life."
-- By Murdoch McBride