Broadway's Times Square Theater Will Be Renovated for Broadway Sensation Film Show

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21 Mar 2012

Bobby Clark and Paul McCullough in George and Ira Gershwin's <i>Strike Up the Band</i> at the Times Square Theater.
Bobby Clark and Paul McCullough in George and Ira Gershwin's Strike Up the Band at the Times Square Theater.

The Times Square Theater, the last of the dormant legit theatres between Seventh and Eighth Avenues on West 42nd Street in the Broadway theatre district, will be renovated to house a starry, "immersive" film experience that celebrates the history of Broadway musicals.

On March 21, Broadway 4D Theaters, LLC announced that it had entered into a long-term lease for the 1920 venue with The New 42nd Street, Inc., the nonprofit cultural organization that in 1990 began securing and finding tenants for the block's eight early-20th-century theatres, including the Times Square Theater, at 217 W. 42nd Street. (The 100-foot façade of the Times Square, next door to the 42nd Street entrance of Foxwoods Theater, boasts a handsome colonnade, which is often obscured by billboard-style advertising.)

The renovation of the Times Square Theater for the new multimedia show — Broadway Sensation — A 4D Musical Spectacular, created by Broadway producer Gary Goddard and Hollywood filmmaker Bryan Singer ("X-Men") — will meet the historic preservation requirements established by New York State, New York City and The New 42nd Street redevelopment project.

Cora Cahan, president of New 42nd Street, the landlord of seven theatres on the block (Disney owns the New Amsterdam), told Playbill.com on March 21 that she was glad to have a tenant that will maintain the venue as a theatre.

"We've seen myriad proposals for the theatre in the 21 years I've been working for New 42nd Street," she said, adding that everything from retail to restaurants has been proposed for space. The theatre stopped offering plays and musicals by the 1930s. Movies and retail were part of its life over the following decades; the stage was torn out years ago to accommodate retail stores. The auditorium's last regular audiences appeared in the mid-1990s, Cahan said, when slasher movies were shown 10 AM-midnight.



Asked about the current condition of the theatre, Cahan characterized it as "not in any condition to be used currently," but New 42nd Street has "maintained it at a good temperature for 21 years and the roof is new [and] all hazardous material was removed years ago." It's at a "point of departure for restoration," needing electric, heating, air-conditioning and more.

The theatre — where The Front Page, Private Lives and the Gershwins' Strike Up the Band played — originally seated 512 in the orchestra and 529 in the mezzanine. There were also four boxes.

Committing to a classic renovation means "maintaining the domed ceiling, the stage's proscenium arch, the mezzanine and the frieze behind the colonnade on the theatre's façade," according to Broadway 4D Theaters' March 21 announcement. It's being billed as "a full and classic restoration to return the theatre to its historic glory."

The length and financial terms of the lease were confidential, Cahan said. Playbill.com sought more information (including the price tag for the renovation) from Broadway 4D Theaters, LLC, but the organization's leaders had no additional comment, a spokesperson said, adding that it's too early in the process.

Broadway Sensation – A 4D Musical Spectacular is "a 3D film-enhanced show with in-theatre special effects" that will "celebrate the Broadway musical with the latest theatre and 4D film technology."

Gary Goddard (whose Broadway producing credits include the recent Tony Award-winning revival of Hair) will lead the creative team. Hollywood director Bryan Singer ("X-Men," "Superman Returns") and Goddard will produce and direct the 3D film. TV and film executive Jeff Sagansky is serving as executive producer.

The target date for opening for the new Times Square Theater is "late spring or early summer of 2013."

The film experience will feature "the greatest songs from the greatest Broadway musicals, penned by the most famous songwriters, including Rodgers and Hammerstein, Kander and Ebb, Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin as well as many others" and "will be performed by Broadway and Hollywood stars." It's billed as "a spectacular immersive experience."

It was not immediately clear if live actors would be incorporated into the experience, but audiences will be offered a "backstage experience" in which "patrons will enter through the theatre's original stage door, once reserved only for actors and crew, and be treated to a pre-show in an authentically rigged backstage environment."

The façade on 42nd Street will feature "a spectacular 20-by-100-foot technologically advanced marquee."

John Sergio Fisher and Associates is the project architect, and will adhere "closely to the original 1920 design of architects DeRosa and Pereira." Fisher has experience restoring theatres and equipping legit theatres with film technology.

The basic re-use plan for the renovated theater has already received approval from the New York City Department of Buildings; "final review of the plans for historic preservation is well underway."

The website cinematreasures.org has a collection of photos of the Times Square Theater.

Noted theatre architect Eugene DeRosa designed the Times Square Theater. Most of his masterpieces have been torn down, but a few survive, including the Broadway Theatre and Studio 54.

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Asked if the Times Square Theater is in a condition to one day become a legit house again for plays and musicals, Cahan said, "If someone wanted a theatre, I think it could be brought back. All the original bones are there" except the stage, which was torn up for retail years ago and would have to be rebuilt. If in some future incarnation, it has a legit future, she guessed it would end up seating 800-900, rather than the original 1,057 (a number that includes four boxes), in order to accommodate modern ADA requirements.

Robert Viagas, editor of the Playbill book "At This Theatre," contributed to this report.