The new $22.5 million theatre Livent Inc. is building on 42nd Street in New York will be named the Ford Center for the Performing Arts, and it will open Jan. 18, 1998 with the musical Ragtime. Previews for Ragtime start Dec. 26, 1997. Tickets go on sale 7 AM (ET) Feb. 23, by calling (212) 307-4100.
Livent Chairman and CEO Garth Drabinsky made the announcement at a Jan. 28 press conference at the Museum of the City of New York. The new 1839-seat theatre was named for the Ford Motor Company, which paid an undisclosed sum to Livent for the name and for the right to display its logo on the theatre's marquee. Like the E.L. Doctorow novel on which it is based, Ragtime the musical has Ford founder Henry Ford as a supporting character, and a Ford Model T figures prominently in the plot.
The Ford Center rises on the site of two classic 42nd Street legitimate houses, the Lyric (1903) and the Apollo (1910). The Lyric was completely demolished in fall 1996, except for an landmarked exterior wall. The Apollo stage has been preserved, as have architectural details from both theatres, which have been stored in a warehouse and will be incorporated into the single new theatre.
Livent has made a practice of selling the name of his theatres to large corporations. The company operates two Canadian theatres called the Ford Performing Arts Center, one in Toronto, one in Vancouver. Both are named after the car company. Within the Toronto Ford complex is the Apotex Theatre, named for a textile company. Drabinsky said the Lyric name will be preserved, either in the name of the long lobby that connects the 42nd Street entrace of the Ford Center with its auditorium, or as the name of the rehearsal spaces that are being built on the complex's second floor.
The Ford Center will be the second-biggest regularly-used theatre on Broadway, after the Gershwin -- which recently housed Livent's Show Boat, and which will host his new revival of Candide in April 1997.
Livent spokesman Dennis Kucherawy said work began in late summer on the interior of the Ford Center, 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... It's exciting to be part of the 42nd Street renaissance. We cant wait to open."
Ragtime opened to extremely positive reviews in December 1996, and reportedly has been playing to sold-out houses since then. Livent also is developing 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 Ford Center, located on the north side of 42nd Street, will 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.
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 has been torn down and the interiors of both theatres largely gutted. Playbill On-Line visited the site in November and saw both theatres demolished down to the earth and bedrock of Manhattan. Preserved were the existing stage and proscenium of the Apollo, a portion of the facade of the Lyric, and the passageway and entrance on 42nd Street. Landmarked exteriors and certain interior embellishments reportedly have been preserved and will be restored to the Ford Center building before it is completed.
The new theatre will have an 1119-seat orchestra, and two 360-seat balconies, the lower of which will 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 will accommodate up to 80 musicians, and the hall would have elevators to serve both the audience and the backstage staff. It will 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.