By Kenneth Jones
03 May 2009
The 1,055-seat house on West 43rd Street is located inside the new 55-story Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Park. The theatre and the Bank of America Tower are an Empire State Development Corporation project and a joint venture of The Durst Organization Inc. and Bank of America, N.A.
Henry Miller's Theatre is the first new Broadway theatre built in more than ten years. The 50,000-square-foot theatre is located behind the preserved and restored neo- Georgian façade of the original 1918 theatre, the interior of which was demolished to make way for the new Bank of America tower.
Urinetown was a latter-day tenant at Henry Miller's. The Roundabout's first production in the theatre will be its revival of the musical Bye Bye Birdie starring John Stamos, Gina Gershon and Bill Irwin, beginning Sept. 10 with an official opening scheduled for Oct. 15. Henry Miller's Theatre will be the third Broadway theatre to be currently programmed by Roundabout, which also produces at the American Airlines Theatre and Studio 54.
The design and construction were undertaken by a project team including Cook+Fox Architects LLP, historic preservationists Higgins & Quasebarth, theatre consultant Fisher Dachs Associates, theatre acoustician Jaffe Holden Acoustics, Inc., and Tishman Construction Corporation as Construction Manager. The Associate Architect is Adamson Associates of Toronto, Canada.
"Roundabout Theatre Company has once again created an innovative public-private partnership to reclaim midtown Manhattan space for live theatre," stated New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. "This beautiful new space will not only benefit Broadway audiences and artists, but will help create jobs and reinforce New York City's reputation for world-class theatre."
"The new theatre respects Henry Miller's original vision of an intimate, direct relationship between the audience and the actors on stage," stated Rick Cook, Partner, Cook+Fox Architects LLP. "At the same time, the new vision is consistent with Mayor Bloomberg's plan for a sustainable, 21st-century city, and has led to the creation of a state-of-the-art Broadway theatre that makes a strong statement on behalf of the entire community."
Among the "green features" of the building: "95 percent air filtration, carbon dioxide sensors to maximize fresh air supply, and the selection of healthy, low-emitting materials." Environmentally responsible materials used in the theatre's construction include "Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood products used extensively in finishes; high-recycled content wall panels and baseboards; locally sourced marble flooring and countertops; and waterless urinals to reduce consumption of potable water."
Of interest to theatregoers is the "washroom availability." There are 22 fixtures in the women's bathrooms (three times the code requirement) and ten fixtures in the men's (one and a half times the code requirement).
The mezzanine is at street level in the theatre and patrons go down one level to the orchestra, where two-thirds of the seating is located. A spacious lobby bar at the orchestra level, a bar and café at the ground level, and a restaurant on the upper mezzanine are among features.
The original theatre was planned by Henry Miller, writer, producer and actor. He included a second balcony in the design, unusual for theatres at the time, because those were the only seats he could afford as a young man. The theatre opened on April 1, 1918 with the play The Fountain of Youth. After Henry Miller’s death in 1926, it was managed by Henry's son, Gilbert, then later operated as a movie house and a discotheque. By 1969, after being used as a Broadway theatre for 51 years, Henry Miller's Theatre was abandoned as a legitimate theatre. Live theatre returned briefly in 1983 with 14 preview performances of The Ritz, which closed on opening night. Roundabout staged its acclaimed revival of Cabaret there, dubbing the place the Kit Kat Klub, in 1998.
Directed and choreographed by Robert Longbottom, the Roundabout's production of Bye Bye Birdie will star John Stamos (Albert Peterson), Gina Gershon (Rose Alvarez), Bill Irwin (Mr. Harry MacAfee) and Jayne Houdyshell (Mrs. Mae Peterson). The limited engagement will play through Jan. 10, 2010, at the Henry Miller's. The design team includes Andrew Jackness (sets), Gregg Barnes (costumes), Ken Billington (lights), Acme Sound (sound) and David Chase (music supervisor).