When the Broadway revival of On the Town opens in autumn 2014, it will be at a 42nd Street playhouse to be rechristened the Lyric Theatre. It will be the fourth name the theatre will have borne since it was built in 1998.
Constructed by Livent Inc. on the site of the old Apollo and Lyric Theatres, the playhouse opened that year as the Ford Center for the Arts, one of the first Broadway houses to be named for a corporate sponsor, in this case the Ford Motor Company. Ford was especially interested in the space because the inaugural production of Ragtime featured a reproduction of a shiny vintage Ford motorcar in one of its scenes.
After Livent ran into financial and legal troubles in 1999, the theatre was among assets assumed by the SFX Theatrical Group, which itself was purchased by Live Nation Inc. (now Clear Channel). Under the Ford Center name the theatre hosted revivals of Jesus Christ Superstar and 42nd Street.
In 2005 Hilton Hotels bought the naming rights, and the building was renamed the Hilton Theatre, which hosted Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Hot Feet, Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Pirate Queen and Young Frankenstein, among other shows.
The theatre is being renovated this summer in anticipation of On the Town’s arrival.
Returning to the name of the Lyric is historic in several ways. Pieces of the old 1903 vintage Lyric were incorporated into the new theatre, including much of the rear façade that faces 43rd Street.
Among classic Broadway shows that played at the old Lyric were Oscar Straus’ The Chocolate Soldier, Rudolf Friml’s The Firefly, Fred and Adele Astaire’s For Goodness Sake, the Marx Brothers’ The Cocoanuts, Cole Porter’s Fifty Million Frenchmen and Florenz Ziegfeld’s musical version of The Three Musketeers.
The Lyric fell on hard times during the Depression and showed movies until it closed for good in 1992.