Winter Garden Theatre
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Best known in more recent times as the home of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical “Cats”, which ran for 19 years, the Winter Garden Theatre was once home to movies as well.
Originally built in 1896 by William Kissam Vanderbilt as the American Horse Exchange. It was leased to the Shubert Brothers who employed architect William Albert Swasey to convert it into a live musical theatre. It was given a Georgian style facade facing Broadway and the auditorium was decorated with an Atmospheric English garden theme, with a blue sky between the open roof trusses. On the 50th Street/Broadway corner of the building was a 3-story Winter Garden Roof Theatre, which over the years operated as the Palais de Danse, Montmartre and Singapore among other names.
The Winter Garden Theatre opened March 20, 1911 with “Bow Sing” and the Jerome Kern musical “La Belle Paree” which starred Al Jolson and launched his career. In 1922 the theatre was completely remodeled in an Adam style to the plans of architect Herbert J. Krapp. The theatre switched to film in 1928 when it was taken over by Warner Bros. opening with Al Jolson in “The Singing Fool”. It went back to live theatre in September 1933. Although movies returned to the Winter Garden Theatre in 1945 when it was taken over by United Artists, the three year run would be the last time movies would be a staple of the program.
The Winter Garden Theatre was renovated in 1980 and opened “Cats” in 1982 and became the longest running show in Broadway history. “Cats” finally closed in September 2000 and the theatre closed for renovations. It reopened in 2001, renamed the Cadillac Winter Garden Theatre (due to Cadillac’s winning naming rights), with the ABBA-inspired musical, “Mamma Mia!”. The Cadillac name was removed at the end of 2006, and is once again going by its original name.
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