Visitors to the Broadway theatre district in recent weeks have seen buildings on the block bounded by 42nd and 43rd streets, Seventh and Eighth Avenues embraced by scaffolding.
Livent's $22.5 million restoration of two old Broadway theatres is underway.
The Toronto-based Livent Inc. has leased two of the classic old 42nd Street theatres -- the Lyric and the Apollo -- and is combining them into one 1839-seat legitimate theatre.
The yet-unnamed theatre would be the second-biggest regularly-used theatre on Broadway, after the Gershwin -- which currently houses Livent's Show Boat.
Livent spokesman Dennis Kucherawy said work began in late summer on the interior, and in late September on the exterior. "The structure has been shored up along the 43rd Street facade wall," he said. "Historical elements have been removed and preserved. The dome of the Apollo Theatre is probably the mose readily identifiable such element." He added, "We are on schedule for an opening in December 1997. The intent is to open with Ragtime. It's exciting to be part of the 42nd Street renaissance. We cant wait to open."
Canadian entrepreneur and Livent principal Garth H. Drabinsky unveiled plans for the project Jan. 16, 1996 at a press conference on the stage of one of the theatres. Drabinsky said he hopes to open his $22.5 million amalgam of the Lyric (built in 1903) and Apollo (1910) Theatres in December 1997 with the new musical version of Ragtime, which begins previews in Toronto in November after two successful workshop productions there in 1995.
Drabinsky said he's also is considering opening with one of several other projects his Livent Inc. is developing. These include a restored version of the Rodgers & Hart musical Pal Joey with a new libretto by Terrence McNally; a new Cy Coleman musical adapted from the 1957 Clifford Odets film The Sweet Smell of Success; and a new musical, I Love a Parade, directed by Hal Prince, with libretto by Alfred Uhry (Driving Miss Daisy) and score by newcomer Jason Robert Brown.
The refurbishment is an important third step in the rehabilitation of the block between Broadway and Eighth Avenue, once the blighted heart of the New York's unofficial red-light district.
The Lyric and Apollo, located on the north side of 42nd Street, adjoin the New Victory Theatre, which reopened as a children's theatre in December.
Disney is renovating the New Amsterdam Theatre, home to the original Ziegfeld Follies in the first decade of the 20th century, which is located directly across 42nd Street from the planned Livent complex. Reopening is scheduled for May 1997 with Alan Menken and Tim Rice's King David oratorio.
Drabinsky is producer of Broadway's Kiss of the Spider Woman and Show Boat, along with the Toronto productions of those two shows, plus Sunset Boulevard, Phantom of the Opera and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
Drabinsky, who operates two theatres named Ford Performing Arts Center (in Toronto and Vancouver, BC) after the Ford Motor Company, said he's considering selling the name of the new theatre, too.
Under the plan developed with Kofman Engineering Ltd. of Toronto (which helped restore the two Ford Theatres, plus the Pantages Theatre in Toronto, for Livent), the wall between the Lyric and Apollo would be torn down and the interiors of both theatres would be largely gutted. The existing proscenium of the Apollo would be moved forward and the Apollo stage greatly enlarged. The existing Lyric stage would disappear and become the seating area of the new theatre. Landmarked exteriors and certain interior embellishments would be preserved.
The new theatre would have an 1119-seat orchestra, and two 360-seat balconies, the lower of which would be called the "Dress Circle." The stage would be 57.5 feet deep and 98 feet wide (including wings), making it able to accommodate "the largest scale musicals" Drabinsky said.
The pit would accommodate up to 80 musicians, and the hall would have elevators to serve both the audience and the backstage staff. It would have 5,800 square feet of backstage space, including dressing rooms for 75 actors (five star dressing rooms), a 3000-square-foot rehearsal/audition room and a 1200-square-foot dance studio where new musicals would be workshopped.
The Lyric and the Apollo were cornerstones of the 42nd Street theatre district during its heyday, with the Marx Brothers, Bobby Clark, W.C. Fields, Ethel Merman, Fred Astaire and other stars appearing on their stages. Both theatres went into decline during the Depression and turned to showing films. The Apollo had a brief renaissance in 1979, when it reopened as a legitimate house, showing "On Golden Pond" and The Fifth of July, but soon turned to hosting small rock concerts.
Both are now owned by New 42nd Street, a division of the Empire State Development Corp., which is overseen by New York State.
-- By Robert Viagas