Most Broadway Theaters were built in the early 20th century. However, it is interesting to note that three of them opened their doors in the early 1970s. Situated at 1515 Broadway, the Minskoff Theatre is housed in the office building called One Astor Plaza. The other two are housed in another office building called Paramount Plaza. This is no coincidence. The Minskoff Theatre and its counterparts were enabled by the Special Theater District Zoning Amendment in 1967, thus explaining their openings in the early 1970s.
How the Minskoff Theatre Came to Be Housed in One Astor Plaza
One Astor Plaza was built on the site of the Hotel Astor. The latter was an 11-floor structure built in the early 20th century. Subsequently, the Hotel Astor proved popular enough to claim a prominent position in the public imagination before proceeding to decline by the 1950s and 1960s. Eventually, Sam Minskoff and Sons bought the building in 1966 with the intent of replacing it with something much more in-demand at the time. Specifically, that would be an office building offering office space.
Originally, there was no plan to put a Broadway Theater in One Astor Plaza. It was situated in New York City’s Theater District. However, it was replacing a hotel rather than a theater, meaning there was no public pressure to push it in that direction. Instead, it was then-New York City Mayor John Lindsay who proposed the idea, which was eventually sweetened with the promise of zoning bonuses for office building developers that included theaters in their office buildings. The Shubert Organization opposed the move at a public hearing held in 1968. Still, that presented no real difficulty, as shown by how construction on One Astor Plaza started in the same year.
The inclusion of the Minskoff Theatre made the project more challenging than planned. After all, it is situated at the base of One Astor Plaza. That meant its roof had to meet two critical criteria that conflicted with one another. One, it needed to meet the needs of the auditorium, meaning it needed to soar without the presence of any obstructive columns to prop everything up. Two, it needed to be much stronger than its counterparts, seeing as how it needed to bear the weight of a full-sized skyscraper. In the end, the roof was made possible by a system of extra-strong beams and girders, which were large enough to make their transportation a major project in its own right. Thanks to this and other issues, the Minskoff Theatre took until 1973 before it was ready to open its doors.
The Initial Stretch
Some venues have the good fortune to start with spectacular success. The Minskoff Theatre didn’t quite manage that. Its first production was a revival of the musical Irene. Officially, it started in March 1973 and continued until September 1974, which made for a total of 605 performances. Unfortunately, it ran into a wide range of problems. One excellent example is how the original director was John Gielgud, who had no previous experience with directing a musical comedy but proved to be not particularly good at learning to do so on the job. Another excellent example is how the investors complained to the New York State Attorney General because they still hadn’t received any returns on their investments by the end of the run, supposedly because the earnings had gone towards satisfying the creditors before the investors.
After that, Minskoff Theatre continued to host musicals. However, it also hosted concerts and other live shows, which made for a somewhat eclectic mix. On the whole, its results in the rest of the 1970s weren’t too good. Something that presumably played a part in the eventual change of operator.
James Nederlander agreed to become involved in the running of the Minskoff Theatre in 1979. An arrangement that continued even once Sam Minskoff and Sons sold One Astor Plaza in 1984. Following the Nederlander Organization’s involvement, the Minskoff Theatre has continued in much the same way as before. There have even been several other long-running productions with troubled runs.
One example was the Broadway debut of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard in 1994. It had a very high advance. Moreover, it managed to bring in a lot of interested individuals, as shown by how it continued running for 977 performances. Despite these things, Sunset Boulevard was not a financial success. High production costs played a part in that. Besides that, there were also legal costs, not least because Patti LuPone sued Webber over not getting the lead role on Broadway as she had been promised. The production that followed Sunset Boulevard was the Broadway debut of The Scarlet Pimpernel in 1997. It also lost money despite considerable efforts to save it. The people behind The Scarlet Pimpernel revised it in 1998, which improved it in the eyes of critics but not enough to reverse its ultimate fate.
The turn of the millennium saw similar productions. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer lasted for just 21 performances after opening in April 2001, which was quite bad. Somehow, The Dance of the Vampires managed to fare even worse after opening in December 2002. Yes, it lasted longer at 56 performances. The issue is that it was much more expensive. Specifically, The Dance of the Vampires went down as one of the biggest Broadway flops of recent decades because it managed to lose its entire $12 million investment. These productions were followed by a revival of Fiddler on the Roof in February 2004, which fared much better by running for almost eight hundred performances.
Receiving The Lion King
The Minskoff Theatre’s fortunes took a turn for the better in 2005. That was the year in which it secured The Lion King, which had already run for eight years at the New Amsterdam Theatre but was still going strong. The transfer happened in June 2006 to make way for Mary Poppins at its original venue. Since that time, The Lion King has continued running at the venue as one of the most successful Broadway productions ever. It did see a disruption because of COVID-19 closures in March 2020, but it made its return in September 2021.
History Of The Minskoff Theatre On Broadway article published on ClassicNewYorkHistory.com ©2022
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