History Of The Marquis Theatre On Broadway

History Of The Marquis Theatre On Broadway

Feature Photo: Anne Czichos / Shutterstock.com

The Marquis Theatre is a newer Broadway Theater with approximately 1,638 seats. It isn’t housed in a structure of its own. Instead, it is housed in the New York Marriott Marquis, a huge 51-floor hotel standing at approximately 541 feet. Interested individuals should know the Marquis Theatre came into existence under controversial circumstances. Something that has had a pervasive influence throughout its existence.

The Building of the New York Marriott Marquis

Times Square saw a turn towards less reputable forms of entertainment in the 1930s and 1940s. That trend solidified during the mid-20th century because of its self-reinforcing tendencies. New York City was well-aware of the problem. Indeed, it tried to end the trend as far back as the 1950s. However, there wasn’t enough will to make real headway until the 1980s and the 1990s.

Unfortunately, the rehabilitation of Times Square resulted in sacrifices. For instance, the New York Marriott Marquis required a great deal of space in a crowded part of the city. Plans were drawn up in the 1970s, but the plans didn’t start moving toward implementation until the late 1970s and early 1980s. Five theaters and ex-theaters were demolished to make room for it in 1982. Some of the five received little mention. Both the Astor Theatre and the Gaiety Theatre had long stopped seeing use as venues for legitimate theater. In contrast, both the first Helen Hayes Theatre and the Morosco Theatre were still being used as venues for legitimate theater, meaning the prospect of their loss generated enormous hostility from the theatrical personalities of the time. As for the Bijou Theatre, it was hosting a mix of live and screen-based entertainment, so it seems safe to say that its loss also contributed to the fervor.

The Marquis Theatre was always meant as a sort of consolation. Its existence would mean one large venue where there had once been several small venues. A lot of theatrical personalities were less than impressed by that argument. As far as they were concerned, the building of a large venue wouldn’t be adequate compensation for the loss of several small venues because its different dimensions would make it better suited for hosting different productions. On top of that, there was the emotional stake, as shown by the theatrical personalities crying at the scene when the demolition crew finally got the go-ahead to demolish the first Helen Hayes Theatre and the Morosco Theatre in March 1982. Unsurprisingly, this kind of interaction resulted in lasting tensions.

Subsequent complaints focused on the inadequacies of the Marquis Theatre. For example, there was a complaint that it was inconvenient because it was located on the third floor. Similarly, there was a complaint that it was inconvenient because its restrooms were in the hotel’s common area. Some of these issues are connected to the Marquis Theatre’s nature as a sort of consolation, meaning it was always working within a tight set of constraints imposed by earlier considerations. Alas, the existence of an explanation for a complaint doesn’t resolve the complaint itself, so these issues received a great deal of focus during that initial period. It is interesting to note that the Shubert Organization didn’t accept the initial offer to operate the venue in 1983. Instead, it was the Nederlander Organization that took it up in 1984.

A Spectacular Start Followed By Less Spectacular Follow-Ups

In July 1986, the Marquis Theatre was ready for use. It opened its doors with a series of concerts by Shirley Bassey, who is now sometimes called Dame Shirley Bassey because she has been knighted. The singer can claim several distinctions beyond that. One excellent example is how she became the first Welshwoman to release a number-one single in the United Kingdom because of “As I Love You” in 1959.

Subsequently, the Marquis Theatre started hosting the musical Me and My Girl the next month. It was a success by any reasonable standard. The musical continued running until December 1989, thus making for a total of 1,420 performances at the Marquis Theatre. Moreover, Me and My Girl claimed three of the 13 Tony Awards it was nominated for in its year. What made the musical particularly impressive was that it was going up against Starlight Express and Les Misérables, both of which started their original Broadway runs in early 1987.

Since then, the Marquis Theatre has seen less spectacular results. The venue has seen notable successes since then. None of them have managed to match their predecessor. Besides those, there have also been some flops from time to time. To name an example, there was Shogun: The Musical in 1990, which was based on both the book of the same name and the show based on the book of the same name. The story was loosely based on the real experiences of the Englishman Williams Adams toward the end of Japan’s Sengoku period, though perhaps unsurprisingly, it greatly exaggerated its hero’s part in those events. Still, Shogun was quite influential in certain circles, not least because it hooked the imaginations of an entire generation of budding scholars of pre-modern Japan in the English-speaking world. Sadly, the musical did poorly by ending after just 72 performances. Its screen-based counterpart had a run-time of approximately 12 hours. Reportedly, the musical’s condensing of events was not handled well, to say the least.

Recent Changes in Ownership

A couple of ownership changes happened in the late 2010s. First, Vornado Realty Trust gained full ownership of the New York Marriott Marquis’s retail and signage in September 2018. That included the Marquis Theatre. Then, Vornado Reality Trust sold almost half but still less than half of the Marquis Theatre’s ownership to a group of investors in April 2019. These ownership changes haven’t impacted the Nederlander Organization, which continues to run the venue as before.

Other than these things, the most notable events to impact the Marquis Theatre would be the COVID-closures in March 2020. That had less of an impact on the venue than on its counterparts. After all, the musical Tootsie had already closed in January 2020. As a result, there wasn’t a production that could be disrupted at the time. The Marquis Theatre has since reopened in April 2022.

References:

https://seatplan.com/new-york/marquis-theatre/

https://www.playbill.com/venue/view-more?venue=00000150-aacd-d8be-af71-ffef18a60002

https://seekingalpha.com/news/3392693-vornado-acquires-rest-of-stake-in-marriott-marquis-times-square-retail-signage

https://www.forbes.com/sites/marchershberg/2019/04/24/roth-sells-stake-in-marquis-theatre/

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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