History Of The Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre On Broadway

History Of The Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre On Broadway

Feature Photo: lev radin / Shutterstock.com

Situated at 236 West 45th Street, the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre is one of four Shubert Theaters built on the same plot of land. It has been run by two parties throughout its existence. One would be the director and producer Arthur Hopkins, who leased it from the Shubert Organization. The other would be the Shubert Organization itself. That means the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre has hosted a wide range of shows for over a century.

Building the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre

New York City saw a frenzy of theater-building in the early 20th century. Much of that happened because of the Shubert brothers, who went from challenging the Theatrical Syndicate in the 1900s to replacing the Theatrical Syndicate as the dominant force in American theater in the 1920s. It wasn’t uncommon for their organization to build multiple theaters in the same area. Indeed, it wasn’t uncommon for their organization to build multiple theaters in the same area in the same year.

In 1913, the Shubert Brothers built a pair of theaters on a plot of land they had leased from the Astor family. Those two theaters proved successful, so they decided to build a second pair of theaters on the same plot of land. One of those two theaters was what would become the Broadhurst Theatre, while the other was what would become the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre. Both theaters were leased before their completion in late 1917. In the case of what would become the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, Arthur Hopkins leased it before proceeding to name it the Plymouth Theatre.

Appearance-wise, the Plymouth Theatre was one of Herbert Krapp’s designs. As such, it boasts a simple, brick-and-terracotta exterior, which it shares with its three counterparts. Furthermore, its interior has been done in the Adam or Adamesque style, a kind of neoclassical style from the 18th century named for its founding practitioners. Still, while some people have criticized the Plymouth Theatre for looking mass-produced, its exterior and its interior are nonetheless counted among Broadway’s iconic sights.

Under Arthur Hopkins

Arthur Hopkins ran the Plymouth Theatre from its opening in 1917 to his death in 1950. That is an impressive run by most standards. After all, that means he managed to survive the Great Depression, which hammered Broadway so hard that a wide range of parties had to scramble to find new sources of revenue. Even so, it isn’t a coincidence that its theaters saw so many changes of ownership in that period.

In any case, he opened in October 1917 with a transfer called A Successful Calamity and then an original production called Barbara. Neither one was very successful, as shown by how The Gipsy Trail started at the end of the same year. That one managed to run for 111 performances. Soon enough, there were The Jest with 179 performances in 1919, Little Old New York with 311 performances in 1920, The Potters with 245 performances in 1923, What Price Glory? with 435 performances in 1924, Iolanthe with 255 performances in 1926, and The Pirates of Penzance with 128 performances in 1926. There were failures throughout Hopkins’s first decade, but these successes were more than enough to make up for them, as shown by his choice to renew his lease for another decade in 1927. Right away, the Plymouth Theatre saw another hit with Burlesque, which proceeded to run for 372 performances.

Things continued similarly throughout the 1930s and 1940s. The Plymouth Theatre seemed to have seen some rough times in the early 1930s, but it was back to hosting longer-lasting shows by the late 1930s. Some were transfers, such as Separate Rooms in 1940 and Chicken Every Sunday in 1944. Others were original productions. One example was The Skin of Our Teeth, which lasted 355 performances starting in 1942. Another example was Private Lives, which lasted 248 performances starting in 1948.

Under the Shubert Organization

In 1950, the Shubert Organization took over the running of the Plymouth Theatre. After all, the first show was the Samuel Taylor play The Happy Time, which proved popular enough to run for 614 performances from 1950 to 1951. Just a short while later, there was the Frederick Knott play Dial “M” For Murder that ran for 552 performances starting in late 1952. It would be an exaggeration to say that the Plymouth Theatre saw nothing but success. There were seven short-lived shows between these two. Still, it seemed to do well enough.

More hits followed from the 1950s throughout the 1980s. Notable examples from the 1950s included A Hatful of Rain with 398 performances in 1956, Romanoff and Juliet with 389 performances in 1957, and The Marriage Go-Around with 431 performances in 1958. Comparable hits in those subsequent decades ranged from Irma La Douce in 1960 to You Can’t Take It With You in 1983. There were even bigger hits such as The Odd Couple in 1965, Plaza Suite in 1968, and Ain’t Misbehavin in 1979. Out of those, The Odd Couple was the least successful at “just” 965 performances. Both of the other two managed to clear the 1,000-performances milestone.

The Plymouth Theatre didn’t slow down one bit after receiving landmark status for its interior and exterior in 1987. Burn This ran for 437 performances after starting in the same year. Subsequently, The Heidi Chronicles stayed at the venue for a year and a half after moving over from Off-Broadway in 1989. Other hits from the late 1980s to the early 2000s included Dancing at Lughnasa in 1991, Jekyll & Hyde in 1997, and The Graduate in 2002. Out of these, Jekyll & Hyde was the most notable by a considerable margin, seeing as how it ran for 1,543 performances from early 1997 to early 2001.

Since Its Renaming

In 2004, the Shubert Organization’s Board of Directors decided to rename the Plymouth Theatre for their then-president Gerald Schoenfeld. There was some controversy over the matter, but nothing much came of it in the end. Afterward, the newly-renamed Plymouth Theatre continued to see a steady succession of shows, which was helped by its popularity with producers in a time of fierce competition over available venues. That concluded in early 2017, which was when the musical Come from Away started up. It became the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre’s longest-running show by running until the COVID-19 closure in March 2020, resuming in September 2021, and then continuing until October 2022. Since then, the venue has continued seeing plenty of interest, which will presumably continue into the foreseeable future.

References:

http://www.shubertarchive.org/shubert-brothers.html

https://www.newyorktheatreguide.com/theatres/gerald-schoenfeld-theatre

https://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/12/arts/producers-of-the-audience-with-helen-mirren-wont-move.html

https://playbill.com/article/look-back-at-100-years-of-the-gerald-schoenfeld-theatre-with-47-shows-that-have-played-its-stage

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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