Our History Of The Majestic Theatre On Broadway takes a loom at one of the most magical feeling theaters on New York’s legendary Broadway Avenue. The Majestic Theatre has a total of 1,681 seats. That is enough to make it one of the biggest Broadway theaters in existence, which makes sense because it was always meant to be a large-scale theater hosting large-scale productions. Indeed, the Majestic Theatre has been doing exactly that ever since it opened its doors at 245 West 44th Street in 1927. As such, it should come as no surprise to learn that it has hosted some of the most famous Broadway shows ever produced. For proof, look no further than The Phantom of the Opera.
Building the Majestic Theatre
Irwin Chanin was a civil engineer turned real estate developer. He had a taste for theater as far back as his days as a poor student at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. As a result, Irwin Chanin and his brother Henry Chanin started building theaters in the 1920s. The two bought the land in 1925 before demolishing 20 brownstone residences to make way for the building complex they had in mind in 1926. There would be a hotel. Furthermore, there would be not one, not two, but three theaters.
Each theater would come in a different size, thus encouraging them to focus on different kinds of shows. The largest theater became the Majestic Theatre, which was supposed to focus on light operas and musical revues. For comparison, the medium-sized theater became the Royale Theatre and the smallest theater became the Masque Theatre. The former was supposed to focus on musical comedies, while the latter was supposed to focus on plays of a more “intimate” nature. Through this arrangement, the three theaters were supposed to blunt the severity of their inevitable competition.
How the Shubert Organization Acquired, Lost, and Again Acquired the Majestic Theatre
The reality turned out to be a bit more complicated than that. Still, the Majestic Theatre did well enough under the Chanin brothers. Yes, it saw the failure of several original shows in the late 1920s. However, it also saw the success of shows transferred from other Broadway theaters. As such, the Chanin brothers managed to sell their ownership stakes in the Majestic Theatre and its two counterparts to the Shubert Organization for $1.8 million in July of 1929. On top of that, they even got the chance to get involved in a land deal.
Chances are good interested individuals can guess that wasn’t the best time to buy a trio of theaters. After all, the U.S. stock market crashed just a short while later in September and October of 1929. As a result, the Great Depression took a toll on Broadway in much the same way it took a toll on the rest of the United States and beyond. The Shubert Organization was having enough financial problems that it leased the Majestic Theatre and the Masque Theatre in 1934. Eventually, it had to auction the Majestic Theatre, the Royale Theatre, and the Masque Theatre because of a $2 million mortgage in 1936, though it did manage to retain the right to operate them in exchange for $700,000. The Shubert Organization wouldn’t be able to reclaim full ownership of the theaters until 1945.
Becoming a New York City Landmark
Subsequent decades were smoother for the Majestic Theatre. It saw failures from time to time. However, it also saw some remarkable successes. For instance, the Majestic Theatre picked up a reputation for being one of the two preferred venues for Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals after hosting four of them in the 1940s and 1950s. These were Carousel in 1945, Allegro in 1947, South Pacific in 1949, and Me and Juliet in 1953. Likewise, it hosted Fanny for 888 performances starting in 1954, The Music Man for 1,375 performances starting in 1957, and Camelot for 873 performances starting in 1960. More hits and flops followed in the 1960s and 1970s. Examples of notable shows from those two decades included Golden Boy in 1964, Sugar in 1972, and The Wiz in 1975.
In the 1980s, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Committee became spooked by the razing of the Helen Hayes Theatre, the Morosco Theatre, and three other theatres. Eventually, it designated both the facade and the interior of the Majestic Theatre as official landmarks in 1987, which was a part of a wave of similar destinations meant to preserve Broadway theaters for the future. The Shubert Organization, the Nederlander Organization, and Jujamcyn were less than pleased by the decision because those designations made it more difficult for them to make changes to their theaters. They sued the New York City Landmarks Preservation Committee over this, though their efforts would fail when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear them in 1992.
The Majestic Theatre in Recent Decades
It is impossible to talk about the Majestic Theatre in recent decades without talking about The Phantom of the Opera. The Andrew Lloyd Webber musical debuted in London’s West End in 1986 before making its way over to New York City’s Broadway in 1988. Reportedly, the producer Cameron Mackintosh had some doubts about using the Majestic Theatre. However, he was talked into it in the end, not least because the Shubert Organization spent $1 million adjusting the Majestic Theatre to make it better suited for the musical needs. That decision proved to be a good one almost right away because The Phantom of the Opera broke a record with advance sales of $17 million.
Since then, The Phantom of the Opera has continued making itself known. It won seven Tony Awards and seven Drama Desk Awards in 1988. Subsequently, The Phantom of the Opera proved itself so popular that it has been running since 1988 and is expected to continue running until 2023. The show never regained its pre-COVID-19 numbers. As a result, it is ending just now because its proceeds aren’t high enough to justify its operating costs. The Phantom of the Opera has already seen more than 13,000 performances. By the time it is expected to end, it is expected to fall just short of the 14,000 mark at a total of 13,925 performances. That is more than enough to make The Phantom of the Opera the longest-running Broadway show with the most performances. Only time can tell whether it can hold that position. For that matter, only time can tell how the Majestic Theatre will fare afterward.
Bloom, Ken. Broadway: Its History, People, and Places: An Encyclopedia. New York: Routledge, 2004.
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.
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