Theatergoers don’t have to get anywhere near the Carole King musical, “Beautiful,” to sing “I feel the earth move under my feet” these days.
Construction, reconstruction and preconstruction plans are causing seismic changes in what tends to be the least ambulatory part of Broadway and Off-Broadway — the real estate. Meanwhile, three separate arts complexes are taking shape around town, most at least partially funded by media moguls and billionaires. And this doesn’t include the long-delayed renovation of Lincoln Center’s former Avery Fisher Hall, home of the New York Philharmonic, which was renamed David Geffen Hall last year when he gave $100 million toward the renovation.
The commercial theater had a shudder late last month when James Nederlander, the last of the old-time Broadway landlord-producers, died at 94. His Nederlander Organization owns nine Broadway houses, fewer than the Shubert Organization, but more than Jujamcyn.
Little is expected to change in the company, which has long had a line of succession through his son, James L. Nederlander. Still, the loss is a jolt to the illusion of sturdiness that those Broadway playhouses — many of them landmarked — offer in a business defined by the transience of shows opening and closing.
Palace Theatre, Broadway at 47th Street This brings us to the literally unsettling fate of the Palace Theatre, the former vaudeville house built in 1913 that was the first New York theater bought by Jimmy Sr.’s father in 1964. Sometime after its current tenant, “An American in Paris,” closes in October, the venerable Palace will be picked up and raised 29 feet — one inch at a time — to make room for stores on the lucrative ground floor and three levels beneath it.
The theater shares the corner, and most of the publicity space facing Broadway, with DoubleTree Suites hotel, which will control the stores. The $2 billion project, which has been approved by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, is expected to take almost three years. When it’s finished, the Palace will have a new lobby, marquee and facade — but it will face West 47th Street, not Broadway.
Hudson Theatre, 145 W. 44th St. This is a relative oddity — a new Broadway theater — which brings the total to 41. In fact, the Hudson was built as a theater in 1903, but has seen life as a theater for adult movies, a corporate conference room and a disco since the early ’60s. The Ambassador Theatre Group, the British company that bought the Lyric on 42nd Street in 2014, is investing in a multimillion-dollar restoration. The Hudson, which will seat an intimate 950, is expected to open in March with Jake Gyllenhaal in a revival of Lanford Wilson’s “Burn This.”
Helen Hayes Theatre, 240 W. 44th St. This fall, Second Stage Theatre begins its long-delayed, much-anticipated renovation and reinvention of this 104-year-old sweetheart of a theater. This will be Broadway’s sixth nonprofit theater, a relatively recent hybrid in which a nonprofit institution operates with the showcasing benefits of a Broadway house. When the interior and exterior reclamations are complete, the theater will have a unique mission — it will be dedicated to the development and presentation of contemporary American work.
Pier 55, floating on the Hudson River near 14th Street Barry Diller and his fashion mogul wife, Diane von Furstenberg, have overcome legal opposition, at least temporarily, to begin work on a reported $200 million private-public plan to create a new 2.7-acre park. This floating island will have several performing spaces, including a 700-seat amphitheater under the artistic direction of Broadway and Hollywood producer Scott Rudin.
A performing arts center at the World Trade Center site From the beginning of plans to rebuild at the site after 9/11, an arts center was a key part of the design. Many years and many failed dreams later, billionaire businessman Ronald O. Perelman has donated $75 million to revive the new theater complex, which is expected to have three multiuse high-tech theaters — one seating 100, another 299 and the third 499 — which can be put together into a larger single space. The estimated total cost is $240 million, which will include $100 million in federal funds donated after the attack.
Culture Shed, 30th and 31st Streets between 10th and 11th avenues Construction began last year for this $360 million six-story building that’s part of the Hudson Yards Redevelopment Project near the High Line. Expect an emphasis on visual arts, but there will be performance spaces and, according to speculation, a possible home for Fashion Week and the Tribeca Film Festival. Opening in 2019.
MCC Theater, 515 W. 52nd St. After years in rental residence at the Lucille Lortel Theatre in the West Village, the MCC Theater has broken ground for its first home, like so much activity lately, on the Far West Side. The company, formed in 1986 and the longtime home of playwright Neil LaBute, will have two theaters, one seating 249 and the other 99.
Ensemble Studio Theatre, 545 W. 52nd St. After 50 years as a Hell’s Kitchen haven for play development, EST is undergoing a $3 million renovation, which will keep its 60-seat studio theater on the second floor and add a 99-seat showcase on the ground floor.
AND SUDDENLY, A GLIMPSE INTO THE PAST
As bricks and mortar get moved around in service to the future, we get to go back in time.
Workers wrecking the Toys R Us store in Times Square just discovered the remnants of an old theater. According to the website CurbedNewYork, the unwitting archaeologists uncovered what appear to be an orchestra pit and the edge of a stage from the century-old foundations on Broadway between 44th and 45th streets. As reported by Playbill, several theaters have stood on that site — first the Times Square Theatre, then one built by Oscar Hammerstein’s grandfather in 1895.
A Gap/Old Navy store is scheduled to open there in 2017. There’s an irony there, but there’s also a life.