The Chanin Brothers, construction moguls who were bitten by the showbiz bug in the 1920s, built six legitimate theatres. The Biltmore Theatre at 261 West Forty-seventh Street (renamed the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre in 2008) was their second project. When this theatre opened on December 7, 1925, The New York Times reported that it was the first theatre to be built on the north side of Forty-seventh Street, just east of Eighth Avenue. The theatre was designed by the busiest theatre architect in town, Herbert J. Krapp, with a single balcony, just under a thousand seats, and a color scheme of cerise and brown.
The opening show at the Biltmore was not new. It was an Owen Davis farce called Easy Come, Easy Go, which moved here from the George M. Cohan Theatre on Broadway. Otto Kruger and Victor Moore played bank robbers, with Edward Arnold also involved in the fracas. It had a run of 180 performances.
Next came a very steamy drama, Kongo (1926), with Walter Huston as Deadleg Flint, a bitter man in the Belgian “Kongo” who gets even with a man who not only stole his wife, but caused his legs to be paralyzed. This jungle rot lasted for 135 performances. A comedy called Loose Ankles (1926) followed, with Osgood Perkins, and it was sufficiently foolish to run for 161 performances. Walter Huston returned to the Biltmore in a solid hit, The Barker (1927), Kenyon Nicholson’s play about carnival life. Huston played a tent-show barker; Claudette Colbert played a snake charmer who vamps Huston’s son, acted by Norman Foster. Colbert vamped Foster so well that they got married, for real, offstage. The critics admired Colbert’s legs, and this lively show ran for 225 performances.
A comedy called Jimmie’s Women was a hit in 1927 but moved to another theatre after a month. Noël Coward’s The Marquise was chichi nonsense about an errant society woman (Billie Burke) who returns to her family years after abandoning them, just in time to save her daughter (Madge Evans) from mistakenly marrying her half-brother (Rex O’Malley). Coward’s fans supported this fluff for 82 performances.
There were several flops in 1928, including the play Tin Pan Alley, with Colbert and Foster returning to the scene of their first romance. There was also a cause célèbre at this theatre on October 1, 1928, when the incomparable Mae West opened her new play The Pleasure Man. This time Mae did not appear in her show, but her plot was sufficiently lurid to shock the populace, and the police closed the play after its second performance. The Pleasure Man was about an actor who has impregnated so many women that the brother of one of them decides to perform a brutal operation on him that will permanently curtail his love life. The operation is performed at a party attended largely by transvestites, and the lover dies under the knife.
Wall Street laid an egg in 1929, and so did the Biltmore Theatre. It housed seven flops, including Man’s Estate, a Theatre Guild production with Dudley Digges, Elizabeth Patterson, Earle Larimore, Armina Marshall, and Margalo Gillmore.
The 1930s began with an interesting but depressing play by Edwin Justus Mayer called Children of Darkness. Set in the notorious debtors’ prison of Newgate in London, the drama dealt with the last days of the infamous criminal Jonathan Wild. The seamy play starred Basil Sydney, Mary Ellis, and Eugene Powers and lasted ten weeks.
George Kelly’s play Philip Goes Forth was a near-hit in 1931, playing for 98 performances. Madge Evans, Thurston Hall, Dorothy Stickney, Cora Witherspoon, and Harry Ellerbe were in the comedy about a young man who fails as a playwright and ends up in his father’s business. From May 1931 until January 1934 the Biltmore housed a number of mediocre plays, such as Her Supporting Cast, Zombie, Border-land, and The Scorpion. One drama, a biographical study called Carry Nation, was unsuccessful but featured this interesting cast: James Stewart, Joshua Logan, Mildred Natwick, Esther Dale, and Katherine Emery.
New Year’s Day 1934 brought a comedy hit at last to the Biltmore. It was called Big Hearted Herbert and starred J. C. Nugent as a mean miser who upsets all his family’s plans until they turn the tables on him. It amused theatregoers for 154 performances. Emmet Lavery’s religious play The First Legion, with Bert Lytell, John Litel, Charles Coburn, and Frankie Thomas, moved in from the 46th Street Theatre in October and stayed through December.
The Chanin Brothers lost all six of their Broadway theatres, including the Biltmore, during the Depression. In 1936 the Federal Theatre Project took over the theatre and presented some of its “Living Newspaper” productions. These consisted of a series of news sketches written by a staff of 70 reporters and writers and about 16 dramatists. A cast of 100 actors appeared in such striking productions as Triple A Plowed Under and 1935. In June 1936 the Federal Theatre presented Stars on Strings, a marionette show, at this theatre.
The Biltmore was next taken over by the Warner Brothers film studio to serve as a showcase for the work of famed producer/playwright/director George Abbott. PLAYBILL magazines for the Biltmore, beginning in 1937 and continuing into the 1940s, stated that the theatre was managed by Bernard Klawans.
Mr. Abbott’s production of Brother Rat, a comedy about life at the Virginia Military Institute, by John Monks Jr. and Fred F. Finklehoffe, was a huge hit in 1936. The sprightly cast included Eddie Albert, José Ferrer, Frank Albertson, and Ezra Stone. It turned out to be the Biltmore’s longest-running show to that time, registering 577 performances. Abbott’s next two shows, Brown Sugar and All That Glitters, were not successful, but his production of Clifford Goldsmith’s What a Life, a hilarious comedy about a squeaky-voiced high schooler who is always in trouble (perfectly played by Ezra Stone), turned into a gold mine. Henry Aldrich became such a popular character that he ended up on a successful radio series (with its distinctive opening “Hen-REEE!”) and, years later, on TV. Eddie Bracken, Betty Field, Joyce Arling, Edith Van Cleve, and Butterfly McQueen were also in the cast of the play, which ran for 538 performances.
George Abbott’s 1939 show was a shocker and quite unlike the type of farce comedy at which he excelled. Called The Primrose Path, it was based on Victoria Lincoln’s sultry novel February Hill. The language was salty and the morals very loose in this saga of a slattern and her family. Helen Westley, Betty Field, Betty Garde, and Russell Hardie were in the cast of this moderate success.
In 1940 Warner Brothers and Bernard Klawans produced a play called Jupiter Laughs, by A. J. Cronin, starring Jessica Tandy, Alexander Knox, Mary Orr, Edith Meiser, and Philip Tonge. This drama about doctors ran for only 24 performances. But on December 26, 1940, the Biltmore welcomed a comedy that would bring it distinction. It was the fabulous My Sister Eileen, by Joseph A. Fields and Jerome Chodorov, based on The New Yorker stories by Ruth McKenney. McKenney had written charming vignettes about her adventures with her wacky blond sister Eileen when they moved from Ohio to Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. This uproarious comedy, skillfully staged by George S. Kaufman, played for 864 performances. The cast included Shirley Booth as Ruth, Jo Ann Sayers as Eileen, and Morris Carnovsky as their Greek landlord. Only one tragic note marred this joyous production. The real Eileen and her husband, novelist Nathanael West, were killed in an auto accident just four days before the play's opening night.
Another enormously successful comedy, Janie, moved here from another theatre for two months in 1942. On March 17, 1943, a play called Kiss and Tell, by F. Hugh Herbert, opened and broke all records at this theatre, running for 956 performances. The comedy about teenage pregnancy had in its cast Richard Widmark, Jessie Royce Landis, Joan Caulfield, and Robert Keith. It was produced and directed by the prolific George Abbott and was made into a hit movie and a successful radio series.
Bernard Klawans, who continued as manager of the Biltmore, presented (with Victor Payne-Jennings) an adaptation of Émile Zola’s Thérèse Raquin by Thomas Job, called simply Thérèse, in 1945. Starring Dame May Whitty, Eva Le Gallienne, and Victor Jory, it played for 96 performances. In February 1946 Walter Huston returned once again to this theatre in Apple of His Eye, written by Charles Robinson and Kenyon Nicholson (who wrote Huston’s big hit The Barker, performed at this theatre in 1927). Jed Harris directed the comedy, which played for 118 performances, and co-produced it with Huston.
Harris produced another comedy here, Loco, with Jean Parker, Elaine Stritch, and Jay Fassett in 1946, but it ran for only 37 performances. Paul Bowles’s adaptation of Sartre’s play about three characters trapped in a room in hell, No Exit, played for only a month, but it was memorable for performances given by Claude Dauphin, Annabella, and Ruth Ford. One of the drama critics complained that movie star Annabella’s performance gave him a stomachache, and she promptly sent him a laxative.
In March 1947 Russian playwright Konstantine Simonov’s comedy The Whole World Over, with Uta Hagen, Sanford Meisner, and Jo Van Fleet, opened and managed to stay for 100 performances. It was directed by Harold Clurman. On September 29, 1947, Jed Harris returned to this theatre with a fine play — Ruth and Augustus Goetz’s excellent adaptation of Henry James’s novel Washington Square. The play, called The Heiress, starred Basil Rathbone, Wendy Hiller, Patricia Collinge, and Peter Cookson and ran for 410 performances. It was directed by Jed Harris and produced by Fred F. Finklehoffe. Rathbone won a Tony Award for his chilling performance as Hiller’s father.
More hits arrived at the Biltmore in the 1940s: José Ferrer, George Mathews, and Doro Merande in The Silver Whistle (1948), a comedy set in an old-people’s home, which ran for 219 performances; and Clutterbuck (1949), a British comedy by Benn W. Levy about a Don Juan named Clutterbuck, which was one of David Merrick’s earliest Broadway productions (in association with Irving L. Jacobs).
The 1950s brought a dramatic adaptation of Herman Melville’s novel Billy Budd. This excellent play, with Charles Nolte in the title role and Dennis King, James Daly, and Lee Marvin in the cast, had an unfortunate opening-night incident. A critic for a major newspaper arrived at the theatre intoxicated. The management called the newspaper, and the editor quickly sent another staff critic without telling the inebriated reviewer. Both critics wrote their reviews; the drunk raved, and the sober critic panned it. Unfortunately, the pan appeared in the paper, which helped to shorten the run to 105 performances for this superb drama.
From 1952 to 1961 the Biltmore suspended its legitimate-theatre policy. It was leased to the Columbia Broadcasting System. On December 21, 1961, it reverted to being a legitimate house with Harold Prince’s production of the hit comedy Take Her, She’s Mine, directed by the old Biltmore genius George Abbott. Art Carney, Phyllis Thaxter, and Elizabeth Ashley starred in this play about a father’s concern when his daughter is ready to go to college. It ran for 404 performances. Ashley won a Tony for her performance. The actress returned to this theatre in October 1963 in an even bigger hit comedy, Barefoot in the Park. Neil Simon’s play about the problems of newlyweds (attractively portrayed by Ashley and Robert Redford, with brilliant support by Mildred Natwick and Kurt Kasznar) became the longest-running play at the Biltmore up to this time (1,530 performances). It played from October 1963 to June 1967. Mike Nichols won a Tony Award for his direction.
Several short-lived plays followed — Dyan Cannon and Martin Milner in The Ninety-Day Mistress (1967); Milo O’Shea and Eli Wallach as homosexuals in the British play Staircase (1968); and Joe Orton’s black comedy Loot (1968).
Perhaps the most famous production to play the Biltmore, the seminal rock musical Hair, opened there on April 29, 1968. This freewheeling look at flower children had been an Off-Broadway hit at the downtown New York Shakespeare Festival, produced by Joseph Papp. It then moved to an uptown disco called Cheetah, but it failed, until a producer named Michael Butler took it over and hired director Tom O’Horgan. A very salable commodity was added to this show — total nudity, something that had not been seen on Broadway since some of the 1920's revues — and the show became the biggest hit in town, running a record four years and two months (1,750 performances), still a record at the Biltmore. With book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, and music by Galt MacDermot, Hair became an icon of the 1960s. Among the many performers the musical introduced were Melba Moore and Diane Keaton.
Some highlights of the 1970s at this theatre included Michael Moriarty in his Tony Award-winning performance as a homosexual in Find Your Way Home (1974); Jules Feiffer’s farce Knock, Knock (1976), with Lynn Redgrave and Leonard Frey; Barry Bostwick winning a Tony Award in the musical The Robber Bridegroom (1976); Lily Tomlin in her dazzling one-woman show Appearing Nitely; an unsuccessful return engagement of Hair (1977); a revival of The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds (1978), starting Shelley Winters; Claudette Colbert in her third appearance at this theatre, in The Kingfisher (1978), with Rex Harrison and George Rose; and Peter Allen in a spectacular personal appearance called Up in One.
The 1980s brought such divergent fare as an exciting courtroom drama, Nuts (1980), with Anne Twomey; Arthur Miller’s play The American Clock (1980), which failed; Eva Le Gallienne and Shepperd Strudwick in To Grandmother’s House We Go (1981); and Claudette Colbert one last time, in A Talent for Murder (1981), with Jean-Pierre Aumont.
The Biltmore wasn’t done with murder yet, however. Next came a transfer of the longest-running thriller in the American theatre, Deathtrap (1982), from the Music Box; and Anthony Shaffer’s spoof of mystery plays, Whodunnit (1983).
Later in 1983 Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Garry Trudeau turned his famous comic strip “Doonesbury” into a musical of the same name. He wrote the book and lyrics, and Elizabeth Swados supplied the music. In 1984 film actress Barbara Rush appeared in a one-woman show, A Woman of Independent Means, and the following year John Pielmeier’s play The Boys of Winter, starring Matt Dillon, opened here and shocked some with its realistic scenes of the Vietnam War. A musical called Honky Tonk Nights, about black vaudeville, arrived here in 1986. In 1987 a musical revue, Stardust, celebrated the famed songs of Mitchell Parish. This was the last production of the twentieth century at the Biltmore.
Several factors made the Biltmore difficult to book or to sell — or to demolish. Its relatively small size for a Broadway house made it uneconomical. Standing dark for several years, it soon was vandalized. With part of the interior open to weather and pigeons, it soon began to mildew and crumble. However, the interior design of the theatre’s auditorium had been landmarked — but not its exterior or even its stage, which made repairs difficult and expensive. Unable to find a bidder, the theatre’s owner defaulted on the mortgage and the theatre was seized by a bank. The Biltmore was purchased by James Nederlander and Stewart Lane in 1993 for $550,000. With the late 1990's Times Square boom, several plans for refurbishment were considered, but these became tangled in legal and union conflicts.
The Biltmore enjoyed a momentary return to glory in 1999 when its marquee, festooned with 1930's-era posters, was used as a backdrop for the Oscar-nominated film Cradle Will Rock.
On November 22, 2000, it was announced that the prestigious Manhattan Theatre Club (MTC), one of Manhattan’s most prominent nonprofit theatres and producer of many successful Broadway transfers, would take part in a renovation of the Biltmore and occupy it as MTC’s new mainstage. The restoration was part of the plan to build a 51-story apartment tower next door to the theatre by Biltmore 47 Associates, a partnership of the Jack Parker Corporation and the Moinian Group, which owned the Biltmore. Ground was broken for the $27 million renovation in a starry ceremony December 12, 2001, amid bare concrete and plaster. The seating capacity of the house was reduced from 950 to 650, but in return the entire orchestra section was raked to create clearer sight lines. This was accomplished by digging out the front of the orchestra to lower the front rows and raising the back of the house so that ticket holders now must climb several steps to reach the back rows after entering the lobby. The renovation also included a downstairs shop and mini museum for MTC, plus an upstairs lounge for subscribers.
Work was completed in time for an October 15, 2003, relighting ceremony hosted by New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, MTC artistic director Lynne Meadow, and executive producer Barry Grove on a platform erected in front of the theatre.
Manhattan Theatre Club was founded Off-Broadway in 1970 with the stated aim of nurturing new American plays. During its first decade at the Biltmore/Friedman, MTC offered a mixture of new plays, Broadway debuts of recent plays that had been produced elsewhere, and revivals of rarely seen 20th-century classics. Though the Biltmore served as its main Broadway production space, MTC produced some of its biggest hits, including Proof and Doubt, at other Broadway theatres. It also continued to produce Off-Broadway at the City Center Stage I and Stage II. Under MTC administration the Biltmore has housed a subscription series of three plays per season. All productions had preset limited runs, which meant that for the rest of its existence the Biltmore gave birth to many shows, but none for a long run — or for an excessively short run, for that matter. Shows generally ran 40 to 90 performances, with the final production of each season usually staying the longest.
The renovated Biltmore opened officially on November 6, 2003, with Richard Greenberg’s drama The Violet Hour, a Twilight Zone-like story about a book publisher who mysteriously receives a manuscript from the future, narrating the course of his life. Robert Sean Leonard and Mario Cantone starred, but critics were generally disappointed.
Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull served as the template for Regina Taylor’s Drowning Crow, about a veteran performer and the family, friends, and hangers-on who gather around her at her summer home. The production featured Anthony Mackie, Aunjanue Ellis, Ebony Jo-Ann, and Alfre Woodard. Critics felt that transferring the action from Russia to the Gullah islands off South Carolina did not quite work.
May 2004 brought Donald Margulies’s Sight Unseen, a Pulitzer-finalist play that MTC had debuted Off-Broadway in 1992 with Laura Linney in the cast. Linney returned for this production (in a new role) opposite Ben Shenkman as a celebrated painter who returns to a woman he had dropped years before. Critics and audiences were happy, as nearly always, to see Linney.
MTC’s second season at the Biltmore opened promisingly in October 2004 with the Broadway debut of Craig Lucas’s black comedy Reckless, about a woman who escapes out the window of her home on Christmas Eve, beginning a multiyear odyssey of misadventures that always seem to involve the death of someone close to her on that normally joyful holiday. Mary-Louise Parker played the fleeing woman, with a fine cast of current and future notables: Debra Monk, Michael O’Keefe, Rosie Perez, Olga Merediz, and Thomas Sadoski.
After that dip into the past, MTC offered in February 2005 a new play by Pulitzer Prize-winner Donald Margulies. Brooklyn Boy was the story of a novelist who sees his personal life fall apart just as his career is blasting off. The fine production starred Adam Arkin, with a supporting cast that included Dana Reeve, Allan Miller, and Ari Graynor.
The season wrapped that June with an unusual presentation, After the Night and the Music, comprising a short one-act called Curtain Raiser, plus two longer one-acts, Giving Up Smoking and Swing Time, all by cerebral-comedienne-turned-director Elaine May. The first featured Eddie Korbich and J. Smith-Cameron, as two people who develop an unusual relationship while they dance. The last featured Jeannie Berlin, Brian Kerwin, Jere Burns, and Smith-Cameron as a group of would-be swingers.
Echoing the Reckless theme of problematic Yuletides, Absurd Person Singular, the 2005-6 season opener, was a revival of Alan Ayckbourn’s comedy about the change in relative social standing among three English couples over a series of Christmas parties. The cast consisted of Mireille Enos, Clea Lewis, Sam Robards, Alan Ruck, Deborah Rush, and Paxton Whitehead.
It was followed by a distinguished play, Rabbit Hole (February 2, 2006), by David Lindsay-Abaire, about a couple coming to terms with the death of their child. Cynthia Nixon and John Slattery played the parents, with Tyne Daly as the grandmother. The scene of anguish when they realize they have accidentally taped over a treasured VHS of the lost child playing helped loft this drama to the 2007 Pulitzer Prize.
Irish author Conor McPherson supplied another of his modern ghost plays in Shining City (March 9, 2006), starring Oliver Platt as a man who comes to a psychologist, Brían F. O’Byrne, claiming he is haunted by the ghost of his deceased wife. Her appearance is accompanied by the sound of an ice-cream-truck jingle. The shrink spends the bulk of the play helping his patient work through the possible causes of this “delusion,” but the audience is treated to a disturbingly real-looking surprise before the final curtain falls.
Two brothers reuniting for the funeral of their father bring up a range of past issues and a 50-year-old family mystery in Losing Louie, Simon Mendes da Costa’s comedy that was a hit in the UK but got mixed reviews on Broadway. The October 2006 production starred Matthew Arkin, Scott Cohen, Mark Linn-Baker, and Michele Pawk.
In January 2007 MTC engaged Garry Hynes to stage a revival of Brian Friel’s Translations, about a doomed romance between an Irish girl and an English soldier who is overseeing a project to anglicize the local Irish place names on military maps. Niall Buggy, Chandler Williams, and Susan Lynch were featured.
Director Harold Prince made an increasingly rare visit to Broadway on May 3, 2007, with LoveMusik, a musical biography of composer Kurt Weill and his muse/wife Lotte Lenya, using Weill’s music and an original script by Alfred Uhry. Michael Cerveris and Donna Murphy starred in this underrated work, in which Lenya, not Weill, seemed to emerge as the central character. David Pittu made a strong impression is his supporting role as Bertolt Brecht. But the musical got shut out of the 2007 Tony Awards and did not make a hoped-for transfer to a commercial run, though it was recorded. It was the first musical at the Biltmore in more than 30 years.
Playwright Theresa Rebeck made her Broadway debut October 4, 2007, with Mauritius, a drama about how the bequest of a rare and valuable stamp rips apart the relationship between two sisters and brings out the worst in a collector and a dealer. F. Murray Abraham, Dylan Baker, Bobby Cannavale, Katie Finneran, and Alison Pill were featured in this interesting play, whose cryptic and hard-to-pronounce title (maw-RISH-us) comes from the name of the small country that issued the stamp.
Come Back, Little Sheba, William Inge’s 1950 drama about a marriage hammered by alcoholism, got a beautiful and heartbreaking revival beginning January 24, 2008, starring Kevin Anderson as the sot, S. Epatha Merkerson as the long-suffering wife, and Zoe Kazan as the beautiful young border whose arrival sets off the action of the play.
Caryl Churchill’s disjointed drama Top Girls got a starry production featuring Martha Plimpton, Mary Beth Hurt, Marisa Tomei, and Elizabeth Marvel, but critics and audiences were left scratching their heads after the May 7, 2008, opening.
On September 4, 2008, the theatre got its first new name since it was built. Thanks to a generous donation from the Dr. Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman Foundation, the Biltmore was rechristened for the pioneering press agent Samuel J. Friedman, the first of his profession so honored on Broadway.
The initial production at the new Friedman Theatre might have challenged even the skills of its namesake. To Be or Not to Be was an adaptation of the classic 1942 Ernst Lubitsch film comedy about a Polish acting troupe trying to escape the clutches of the Nazis during World War II. The project seemed to have great promise, but it suffered from friction between its director, Casey Nicholaw, and its British adapter, Nick Whitby. When it became clear that the production was not working and Whitby declined to adjust his script any further, cast members including Jan Maxwell and David Rasche were left to their own devices after a critical clobbering in October 2008.
Mercedes Ruehl, Lily Rabe, and Kieran Campion starred in the January 2009 Broadway debut of Richard Greenberg’s drama The American Plan, about a handsome and charming liar who preys upon a mentally fragile young woman at her summer home. The play had debuted at MTC’s Off-Broadway Stage II in 1990.
In his first return to Broadway after his Tony-winning performance in Curtains, David Hyde Pierce chose to play the role of a middle-aged playwright whose greatest work may be a fiction he cooks up to test the affections of his much younger fiancée in an April 2009 revival of Samson Raphaelson’s Accent on Youth.
Manhattan Theatre Club opened its fall 2009 season with a grand revival of George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber’s classic The Royal Family, with Rosemary Harris as Fanny Cavendish, matriarch of the acting Cavendish clan, and Jan Maxwell having a triumph as leading lady Julie Cavendish on John Lee Beatty’s sumptuous two-level set. Word of mouth was so positive, the production got a rare extension even before it opened.
MTC reaffirmed its commitment to playwright Donald Margulies by producing two of his plays in succession in early 2010. Laura Linney and Brian d’Arcy James starred in the January 28 debut of Time Stands Still, playing a married photographer and journalist adjusting to stateside life after she is injured covering the Iraq War. On April 28 audiences got to see the Broadway debut of Margulies’s Collected Stories, which had been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in its 1996 Off-Broadway debut. Linda Lavin played an older woman writer who takes a younger writer (Sarah Paulson) under her wing.
Next up at the Friedman was The Pitmen Painters, a British import written by Lee Hall (Billy Elliot), which concerned a group of coal miners taking an art appreciation course. Playwright David Lindsay-Abaire returned in early 2011 with the world premiere of Good People, which was a success with critics and audiences alike. The play, set in the Boston neighborhoods of hardscrabble Southie and upscale Chestnut Hill, featured a Tony Award-winning performance by Frances McDormand, ably supported by Tate Donovan, Estelle Parsons, Becky Ann Baker, Patrick Carroll and Reneé Elise Goldsberry.
The Biltmore stood as a crumbling hulk on Forty-seventh Street for the better part of a generation — a symbol of the city’s decay. Its restoration, including a contemporary marquee and an exterior TV screen looping news and information about Manhattan Theatre Club’s offerings, seemed to light up the entire neighborhood.