New Amsterdam Theatre
214 W. 42nd Street,
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The New Amsterdam Theatre was opened as a live theatre on October 26, 1903 with a production of Shakspeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. The theatre was the first to be designed by the young architects Herts & Tallant, who had just returned to New York from a trip to Paris France, where they had seen examples of the ‘new’ Art Nouveau style, and they incorporated this in the design of the theatre. The New Amsterdam Theatre is a rare example of this style in the United States, and here it is certainly one of the most scrumptious examples of the style. The building also contained the 680-seat Ariel Gardens Rooftop Theatre which opened in June 1904 with Fay Templeton in “A Little Bit of Everything”, a musical revue.
The main house became well known as a venue for the lavish “Zeigfeld Follies” from 1913 to 1927, featuring stars such as Ruby Keeler, Fred & Adele Astaire, Al Jolson, Fanny Brice, Marilyn Miller, Eddie Cantor, the Dolly Sisters, W.C. Fields and Helen Morgan. The New Amsterdam Theatre was closed as a live theatre in January 1937, with John Houston in Shakepeare’s “Othello”
It reopened as a 2nd run movie theatre in June 1937, with the Warner Bros. all star movie “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. An Art Moderne style sign was designed for the front of the theatre by noted architect John Eberson. The Ariel Gardens Rooftop Theatre was renamed Frolic Theatre and was closed on November 16, 1943 with Jim Bowles in the play “Goodbye Again”. It was converted into a rehearsal space and later a television studio, which was closed in spring of 1982, and still awaits restoration.
The New Amsterdam Theatre was closed as a movie theatre in 1985. It was purchased by the Nederlander Organization, who hoped to restore the building back to live use, but neither the 42nd Street area it was set in, nor the the time was right, and the entire building gradually began a downward spiral of dilapidation.
Purchased and restored by the Walt Disney Company in 1995-97, the New Amsterdam Theatre was the centerpiece of the Times Square renewal of the 1990’s. Though the interior had become a wreck, no expense was spared in restoring all of the Art Nouveau details. The Art Moderne sign on the facade was retained as a very interesting attribute to the theatre. Because the New Amsterdam Theatre reopened as a flagship showplace for Disney’s live shows, so much redevelopment occurred in Times Square that after a lull of decades, the area once again became crowded with pedestrians and an entertainment and commercial hub for the city.
Beautifully restored, the New Amsterdam Theatre is now Disney’s premiere showcase for its stage shows. It reopened on May 18, 1997 with a concert “King David”. In a nod to its cinema heritage, the New Amsterdam Theatre screened Disney’s animated feature “Hercules” in June 1997.
After being presented for years, the stage version of the “The Lion King” was succeeded on November 16, 2006 by the stage version of “Mary Poppins” which originated at the Prince Edward Theatre in London, England.
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