Stars Appear to Applaud the Centennial of Broadway's Helen Hayes Theatre

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29 May 2012

Owners Martin Markinson and Jeffrey Tick with a New York City Mayoral Proclamation celebrating the Hayes milestone.
Owners Martin Markinson and Jeffrey Tick with a New York City Mayoral Proclamation celebrating the Hayes milestone.
Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Harvey Fierstein, Dana Ivey, Alfred Uhry, Alison Fraser, Mary Testa, Jonathan Hadary, Sarah Jones, Mandy Patinkin and more gathered May 24 at Broadway's Helen Hayes Theatre to celebrate its 100th anniversary. Playbill was there, too.

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Winthrop Ames' ears must have been burning on May 24.

Who was Winthrop Ames? The man who built the Little Theatre — the Helen Hayes Theatre, to you moderns — that's who. What was May 24? The day the current owners of Broadway's smallest house, Martin Markinson and Jeffrey Tick, decided to throw a party to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the venue on West 44th Street. The Helen Hayes is actually one-hundred-years-and-two-months old, if we're being exact. It was opened on March 12, 1912, by Ames, a Harvard-educated scion of an aristocratic New England family who aimed to buck Broadway's commercial ways by building a theatre dedicated to intimate plays. (He also built the nearby Booth, and was a playwright and director.) He named the 299-seat structure, appropriately enough, the Little Theatre.

The Helen Hayes — so renamed in 1983 after the original Helen Hayes Theatre was torn down to make way for the Marriott Marquis Hotel — remains a home to intimate work. The theatre's history has had its hiccups over the years: The New York Times owned it for a spell in the 1930s; it was an ABC television studio from 1942 to 1959; and was leased to Westinghouse Broadcasting from 1964 to 1974 (David Frost, Merv Griffin and Dick Cavett shot their talk shows from here). Currently, however, it's enjoying its longest run as a legit stage; nothing but theatre has been presented here since 1974.

Sarah Jones at the Hayes centennial.
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

The two present owners marked the occasion with a ceremony in the auditorium, followed by a lunch at Sardi's, which sits next door.

Martinson and Tick are an unusual species among Broadway theatre owners — unlike the Shuberts, Nederlanders and Jujamcyns, they possess a single house. Martinson told the crowd how both James Nederlander, Sr. and the Shuberts' Bernard B. Jacobs told him he couldn't make a go of it with only one house. He ignored their advice, and has now owned the theatre longer than Ames did.

"Ames wanted noncommercial plays here to elevate the level of show on Broadway," joked Tick, surrounded by the set of the long-running '80s-rock musical Rock of Ages. "And now we have a stripper pole on stage and the ability to serve Jell-O and tequila shots in the auditorium." He then named a number of the many productions that have played the Hayes. "There have been open engagements. There have been limited engagements. There have been open engagements that became limited engagements."

Harvey Fierstein, whose play Torch Song Trilogy played a long run at the Hayes, hosted the event. Introducing him, Martinson recalled, "Jeffrey's father and I got very, very lucky. We stumbled across a playwright and actor who had a play called Torch Song Trilogy and he brought it to this theatre. It ran three years. And that is really what put this theatre on the map."



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