Broadway is home to a huge concentration of theaters. However, it is interesting to note that certain parts of the theater district are even more concentrated than the rest. For instance, the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre is one of three Broadway Theaters built as a part of a single complex. It is a medium-sized theater, while the Majestic Theatre is a large-sized theater and the John Golden Theatre is a small-sized theater. Fittingly, the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre has a seating capacity of approximately 1,092.
Building the Complex
The Chanin Organization built six theaters in the mid-1920s. That was a bit unusual because it had no previous experience. Still, the building of the six theaters didn’t come out of anywhere, seeing as how the Chanin Organization’s founder Irwin Chanin had developed a taste for theater back when he was still a poor student at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. By 1926, three of the six theaters were complete. Despite that, the Chanin Organization was already moving to build a new complex, which would have a large-sized theater on 44th Street plus a medium-sized theater and a small-sized theater on 45th Street. Out of the three, the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre was the first to open in January 1927, though it was still called the Royale Theatre in those times.
Under the Chanin Organization
Interested individuals should know the three theaters were meant to host different kinds of shows aimed at different theatergoers, thus enabling them to exist next to each other without eating too much into one another’s sales. In the Royale Theatre’s case, it was supposed to host musical comedies. As such, it opened with Piggy, which received a mid-run rename to I Told You So. Reputedly, its script wasn’t the best. Even so, the involvement of the comedian Sam Bernard enabled it to run for 79 performances anyway.
Afterward, the Royale Theatre continued to host musical comedies. Still, it wasn’t too long before it hosted its first straight play called Sh! The Octopus in 1928. On top of that, the Royale Theatre had its first hit with Diamond Lil in the same year. That wasn’t Mae West’s first Broadway play, but that was Mae West’s first successful Broadway play. Due to that, Diamond Lil was a notable milestone in her seven-decade career.
Troubles During the Great Depression
The Shubert Organization bought the Chanin Organization’s ownership stakes in the Royale Theatre and its two siblings in July 1929. It paid $1.8 million. Furthermore, it sold a parcel of land, which would see subsequent use in the building of the Century.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t too long before the Shubert Organization ran into serious financial trouble during the Great Depression. The Royale Theatre was the first to slip out of its hands. By July 1932, it had been leased by the producer John Golden. There were a couple of successful shows Both Your Houses in 1933 and They Shall Not Die in 1934, but for the most part, its shows didn’t fare very well in this period. Eventually, John Golden renewed his lease before renaming the Royale Theatre the John Golden Theatre in September 1934. That lasted until 1936 when the theater and its two siblings were put up for auction.
The Shubert Organization bought the rights to operate the three theaters. John Golden moved to the small-sized theater before renaming it for himself. Meanwhile, the medium-sized theater reverted to its previous name. However, the Shubert Organization leased it to CBS, which proceeded to use it as a radio broadcast studio. That lasted until May 1940 because of a lack of programming. Something that presumably wasn’t helped by how CBS had converted several theaters into radio broadcast studios in this period.
Under the Shubert Organization
By October 1940, the Royale Theatre was back to being a theater. It hosted both new shows and transferred shows. By 1945, the Shubert Organization had managed to reclaim full ownership of the Royale Theatre and its two siblings.
The Royale Theatre continued hosting a wide range of shows from the 1940s to the 1970s. For instance, there was New Faces of 1952, which would be the last Broadway revue to become popular for quite some time because of increasing TV-based competition. Similarly, there was Gigi in 1958, which was a rare film screening sandwiched between live performances. It is interesting to note that the Royale Theatre saw some notable hits in this period. In particular, it hosted Grease from November 21, 1972, to January 27, 1980. Combined with the musical’s stints at other theaters, that was enough to make it the longest-running Broadway show of its time.
After that, the Royale Theatre continued to see hits in the 1980s. One excellent example was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which ran for more than a year at the theater from 1982 to 1983. Other examples included Speed-the-Plow, which opened in 1988 and Lend Me a Tenor, which opened in 1989. Of course, the 1980s were also the decade in which the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission gave a huge number of Broadway-related sites landmark status. Both the interior and the exterior of the Royale Theatre were included in the designations of 1987.
As for the 1990s and early 2000s, the Royale Theatre saw several long-running shows in that period. These ranged from Conversations with My Father in 1992 and An Inspector Calls in 1994 to Art in 1998 and Copenhagen in 2000.
As the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre
In September 2004, the Shubert Organization’s Board of Directors decided to rename the Royale Theatre the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre in honor of its president. There was a bit of controversy at the time, but nowhere near enough to derail their plans. After the renaming, the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre continued to host Glengarry Glen Ross, which would run for a total of 137 performances. Other than that, one notable show was Once, which ran from 2012 to 2015, while another notable show was a revival of The Color Purple, which ran from 2015 to 2017. The Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre was previewing a revival of Company when it closed its doors in March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Subsequently, it reopened in November 2021 with that same revival, which went on to win five of the nine Tony Awards it was nominated for.
Jackson, Kenneth T. The Encyclopedia of New York City. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011.
Haskell, David. The Encyclopedia of New York. New York: Avid Reader Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2020.
Bloom, Ken. Broadway: Its History, People, and Places: An Encyclopedia. New York: Routledge, 2004.
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