Secrets of the NYCB Theatre at Westbury
The Westbury Music Fair opened its doors in 1956, housed in a circus tent on the grounds of an abandoned industrial site off Brush Hollow Road.
Ten years later, after finding success, the theater was rebuilt into a permanent, indoor structure that still stands today as the NYCB Theatre at Westbury.
Marketing manager Dan Kellachan, who has worked at the theater for 35 years, has seen it all, and he shared with us some little-known tidbits that make up the theater's rich history.
Jack Benny helped get the theater unionized(Credit: NYCB Theater at Westbury)
Comedian Jack Benny was the first person to perform at the newly renovated Westbury Music Fair in 1966 — but not without some protest. Theater employees rallied on top of the hill leading down to the theater on opening day, refusing to work unless they were unionized. Benny, bearing witness to the event, borrowed a scooter from one of the theater’s general managers and rode up the hill to support the workers, refusing to perform unless a union contract was established. Westbury Music Fair leaders relented and the show went on.
Currently, stagehands are members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.
Diana Ross reigns 'supreme' in ticket sales(Credit: NYCB Theater at Westbury)
The Motown diva sold out 18 performances during her inaugural two-week run at Westbury from Feb. 27 to March 11, 1984 — more than any other performer to date. Lines to pick up concert tickets wound through the theater's parking lot and spilled out onto nearby Brush Hollow Road.
Gutsy move gets Judy Garland to perform(Credit: NYCB Theater at Westbury)
In 1967, after Judy Garland was fired from a role in the movie adaptation of Jacqueline Susan's novel "Valley of the Dolls," Westbury owner Lee Guber took advantage of the situation. He met Garland at the airport when she arrived in New York and convinced her right there to perform at Westbury. Garland put on a one-day cabaret performance of her greatest hits on June 18, 1967, wearing a sequined pantsuit she took from the "Valley of the Dolls" set.
It's the backdrop for a Johnny Cash album cover(Credit: NYCB Theater at Westbury)
The front cover of Johnny Cash's studio album "American III: Solitary Man" is a photo taken of the musician while he was backstage at the Westbury theater for one of his performances in the '90s. The album dropped on Oct. 17, 2000, three years before his death in 2003. Cash performed at the theater in 1977, 1981, 1993, 1994, 1995 and 1997.
The stage makes a full rotation in 12 to 14 minutes(Credit: Amy Onorato)
Westbury is a "theater in the round," with a circular stage surrounded by an audience on all sides. Stagehands can turn the "front" of the stage (wherever the performers are facing) using a system of steel cables mounted underneath the stage and orchestra pit. The stage can make a full rotation in about 12 to 14 minutes, and is constantly turning throughout performances. Moving any faster could be dangerous for performers, who risk falling offstage due to the movement.
'Star Aisle,' the seats that sell out fastest(Credit: Amy Onorato)
"Star Aisle," located to the right of the theater's main entrance, is the primary stage entrance for artists and a direct route to the main backstage area. The seats lining either side of the aisle are usually the first to sell out because of the audience's close proximity to artists as they make their grand entrance. "You can literally reach out and touch them if you wanted," Kellachan said.
The 'Star Room' got a 'Mad Men'-inspired makeover(Credit: Amy Onorato)
The theater also recently revamped its "Star Room," the dressing room for visiting artists. Kellachan said the theater wanted to "get back to its roots" by outfitting the room with "Mad Men" inspired decor, including retro print wallpaper and vintage furniture purchased from thrift shops and antique stores.
The lobby features original stage lighting(Credit: Amy Onorato)
The lighting in the theater's lobby is actually the original lighting used above the stage when the theater first opened.
Performers' signatures blanket the backstage kitchen(Credit: Amy Onorato)
In May 2002, R&B singer Luther Vandross autographed the backstage kitchen wall — starting off what would become a Westbury tradition for visiting artists. Diana Ross, a friend of Vandross, continued the trend by drawing a heart around their names, along with her autograph, when she visited the theater for a performance later that year, that July. The tradition has become such a hit among artists that signatures and drawings now cover the majority of the kitchen, even on cabinets and drawers.