Stars Honor the Late "Line King" June 23 When Bway's Beck Becomes The Hirschfeld

News   Stars Honor the Late "Line King" June 23 When Bway's Beck Becomes The Hirschfeld A star-studded slice of Broadway history will be served by Jujamcyn Theaters 7 PM June 23 when the Martin Beck Theatre is renamed The Al Hirschfeld Theatre, after the late illustrator who documented Broadway shows and show folk.
The marquee of the soon-to-be Al Hirschfeld Theatre as it looked June 20.
The marquee of the soon-to-be Al Hirschfeld Theatre as it looked June 20. (Photo by Andrew Ku)

The dedication and theatre re-naming ceremony is an all-star, open-to-the-public affair titled 100 Years of Al Hirschfeld – A Celebration. Director Jerry Zaks (Guys and Dolls, Smokey Joe's Cafe) is supervising the performance.

Hirschfeld, the white-bearded pen-and-ink artist, a fixture at The New York Times, died Jan. 20, 2003, at age 99. He was tickled to hear of the renaming earlier this year. The artist's famed, elegant black-and-white caricatures documented the past eight decades of theatre and showbiz history. One of the last major shows he captured was Hairspray.

Stars and celebrities expected to participate in the event, hosted by Jujamcyn Theaters (which owns and operates the house) and The New York Times (Hirschfeld's canvas for years), include Brent Barrett, Stephen Bogardus, La Chanze, Matthew Broderick, Mark Jacoby, Liz Callaway, Nathan Lane, Kevin Chamberlin, Malcolm Gets, Frank Langella, Marge Champion, Jan Maxwell, Carol Channing, Marin Mazzie, Barbara Cook, Audra McDonald, Walter Cronkite, Arthur Miller, Jason Danieley, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Jules Feiffer, Adam Pascal, Sutton Foster, Hal Prince, Kitty Carlisle Hart, Lewis J. Stadlen, Marissa Jert Winokur, Victor Garber, Anthony Rapp, Whoopi Goldberg, Andy Rooney and the artist's daughter, Nina Hirschfeld.

The Beck, now Hirschfeld, is at 302 W. 45th Street. General admission tickets for 100 Years of Al Hirschfeld — A Celebration will be available at the Martin Beck Theatre box office on a first-come, first-served basis beginning at 3 PM Monday, June 23. The event is free to the general public. Doors open at 6:30 PM.

* "Al Hirschfeld was an irreplaceable fixture of Broadway,” Jujamcyn chair James H. Binger said in a statement. "I've been lured to Broadway for many decades by the promise of excitement, laughter and romance that permeate all of his work. And since he started working in New York only two years after the Martin Beck Theatre was built, it seems wholly appropriate that the building bear his name – they have shared the street during Broadway's golden age and beyond."

Jujamcyn president Rocco Landesman said, "The renaming of a Broadway theatre is an important event in the history and the heritage of Broadway. No one working in our world is more deserving than Al Hirschfeld, who has chronicled the look, the energy and the excitement of the New York theatre scene for more than 75 years."

Hirschfeld's first theatrical caricature for The New York Times appeared in 1927. It was of actor Harry Lauder. When the Beck becomes the Hirschfeld, it will be the only time in Broadway history a theatre is named after an artist.

Louise Kerz Hirschfeld, a theatre historian and the artist's widow, and Arthur Gelb, former managing editor of The New York Times and a close friend of Hirschfeld's since the 1940s, will serve as co-chairmen and associate producers of the celebration.

"There is no greater honor for my beloved husband than having a Broadway theatre named after him," said Lousie Kerz Hirschfeld, in a statement. "Al revered the theatre with all its mysteries and the creative people involved in producing live plays and musicals. With his name permanently affixed to a theatre marquee, my husband is now in the pantheon of American theatrical heroes."

Gelb said, "When I interrupted Al at his drawing board some months ago to inform him about our plan to rename a Broadway theatre in celebration of his 100 th birthday, I never saw him look more enchanted. To all who knew him, Al was then an indestructible 99, and we were sure that he would be with us on June 23 for the lighting of the new Al Hirschfeld marquee. Sadly, that was not to be. We’ve lost Al, but his art will live forever."

In addition to the renaming, the theatre will undergo renovations including a new marquee and a permanent gallery featuring 22 of Hirschfeld's drawings, courtesy of The Margo Feiden Galleries Ltd., Hirschfeld's long-time art dealer. Each drawing represents a past Broadway show that played at the Martin Beck Theatre.

The Martin Beck Theatre was built in 1923 by vaudeville impresario Martin Beck. After his death in 1940 it remained in his family until 1966, when Jujamcyn Theaters acquired it. A plaque commemorating Martin Beck's contribution to the theatre's history will be unveiled at the renaming. In 1996, a major restoration of the theatre returned it to its original design and decorative scheme, an exotic Moorish fantasy originally created by architect G. Albert Landsburgh.

The Martin Beck Theatre's tenants have included plays by Eugene O'Neill, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee, and musicals such as Bye Bye Birdie, Candide and Into the Woods, as well as significant recent revivals of Guys and Dolls and Kiss Me, Kate. The venue is the current home Man of La Mancha starring Brian Stokes Mitchell and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio.

According to a bio provided by Jujamcyn Theaters, "Al Hirschfeld was born in St. Louis on June 21, 1903. When he was 11 years old, his family moved to New York. He enrolled at the Art Student's League and at the age of 17 became an art director at Selznick Pictures. He held the position for about four years before moving to Paris in 1924. In December 1926, a sketch he made of actor Sacha Guitry was published in the New York Herald. In two years, his theatrical drawings were appearing in five different New York newspapers. The first New York Times drawing appeared in 1928, where he continued to work for more than 70 years. In 1943, Hirschfeld married one of Europe's most famous actresses, the late Dolly Haas. They were married for more than 50 years and in 1945 gave birth to their daughter, Nina. Since then, Hirschfeld has hidden her name at least once in each of his drawings. The number of Nina's concealed is shown by an Arabic numeral to the right of his signature. In 1991, Al Hirschfeld became the first artist in history to have his name on a U.S. Postage Stamp Booklet when the United States Postal Service released the five stamps they commissioned Hirschfeld to design. In September 1994 Hirschfeld's first wife Dolly passed away. In October 1996 he married Louise Kerz—the widow of Broadway's Leo Kerz. In 1996, "The Line King," the Oscar nominated full-length documentary about Hirschfeld, opened in movie theatres across the country. Hirschfeld's most recent hardcover book, "Hirschfeld on Line," was published in 1999 by Applause Books. Hirschfeld's drawings have appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Playbill, TV Guide, TV Guide Canada, Town & Country, Playboy, Mirabella, People, New Masses, Collier's, Life, Time, Look, The Washingtonian, The Los Angeles Times, Business Week, Rolling Stone, Reader's Digest, Print, See, Talk and more. He died on Jan. 20, 2003 in New York City."