Times Square Church, June 2007
|Address||237 West 51st Street|
New York City, New York
|Type||Former Broadway & cinema|
|Current use||Times Square Church|
|Opened||April 22, 1930|
|Architect||Thomas W. Lamb|
The Mark Hellinger Theatre is a former Broadway theatre and cinema complex, located at 237 West 51st Street in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. Since 1989, it has been home to the Times Square Church. The former theater, which remains largely unaltered in appearance, is most notable for having been the site of the original production of My Fair Lady, which ran from 1956 to 1962.
Designed by architect Thomas W. Lamb, the theater was built by Warner Bros. as a deluxe movie palace to showcase their films on Broadway. It opened as the Warner Bros. Hollywood Theatre on April 22, 1930 with the Warner Technicolor musical film Hold Everything starring Winnie Lightner and Joe E. Brown.
Although built as a cinema, the theater's stage, one of the largest on Broadway, was designed with the capacity to present large musical shows. As early as 1934 the Hollywood began presenting legitimate Broadway musicals, returning to films between live engagements. The first of these was Calling All Stars, a musical revue with Martha Raye.
Still a Warner theater, on October 9, 1935, the Hollywood was the site of the New York premiere of Warner Bros's lavish film of A Midsummer Night's Dream. The film's many stars included James Cagney and Olivia de Havilland.
In 1940, the theater was briefly renamed the 51st Street Theatre, under which name it operated again as a live theater, this time presenting ballet and classical drama. In 1941 it returned to the name Hollywood Theatre. In all there were eight live shows at the theater between 1934 and 1941. Of these, only George White's Scandals (1939) and Banjo Eyes with Eddie Cantor (1941) had long runs.
Following Banjo Eyes, the Hollywood returned to showing films exclusively until 1948 when it was purchased by the wealthy producer Anthony Brady Farrell, who had the house completely renovated with the intention of making it a full-time Broadway legitimate theater. He renamed the theatre in honor of Mark Hellinger, a noted Broadway journalist and critic who had recently died. Under its new name the theater reopened on January 22, 1949, with the Farrell produced musical All for Love.
Under Farrell's ownership, the Hellinger Theatre continued to primarily showcase musicals; however, he had greater success as a landlord than producer. Of five musicals Farrell produced, only one, Texas Li'l Darling (1949) ran for more than 200 performances. Two on the Aisle (1951) and Plain and Fancy (1955) had respectable runs, but the venue had its greatest success with the smash hit My Fair Lady which ran from 1956 to 1962 for 2,717 performances.
The Hellinger marquee during the run of Two on the Aisle may be seen briefly, at approximately 46 minutes, in the 1952 MGM film Pat and Mike.
In the 1960s, the Hellinger continued its run as one of Broadway's key musical houses with, among others, the shows On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1965) and Coco (1969), Katharine Hepburn's only Broadway musical.
The Nederlander Organization purchased the theater in 1970. Jesus Christ Superstar played at the Hellinger from 1971 to 1973 for a total of 711 performances. Sugar Babies ran from 1979 to 1982, for a total of 1,208 performances. Throughout the remainder of the 1980s, the Hellinger continued to showcase musicals, most of which were unsuccessful. The 1985 film of A Chorus Line was partly shot on location at the theater.
In 1989, the Nederlander Organization leased the Hellinger to the Times Square Church for $1 million per year, on a five year lease. James M. Nederlander said, "We have to keep the theatres filled. We've got the Gershwin with nothing in it. We'll have the Nederlander as well. We don't have anything on the horizon to put in the theatre," also adding, "We want to keep the theatre as a legitimate theatre. It's a short-term lease -- five years is short term for me. It'll pass before you know it." In 1991, the Nederlanders sold the Hellinger for $17 million. ($31,322,182.36 2018 USD)
According to a 2010 article in the New York Post, there have been a number of unsuccessful attempts made by theatrical producers to buy the theater from the Times Square Church. Among these are alleged to be Cameron Mackintosh, former Canadian impresario Garth Drabinsky, the Shubert Organization, corporate producers Disney and Clear Channel, and lawyer and producer John Breglio, who controls the Michael Bennett estate.
The Times Square Church has maintained the theater's historic interior decor intact and it is open to the public regularly for services and tours.
Although the front entrance to the building currently is located on 51st Street, this was originally a side entrance. The main entrance was originally at 1655 Broadway, with a narrow lobby leading to a Grand Foyer on 51st Street. In 1930, it was desirable for a first-run motion picture theater in the Times Square area to have an entrance, no matter how small, on Broadway. The Hollywood's entrance, though narrow, featured a bright marquee and a huge lighted vertical sign. The Broadway entrance was closed in 1934 and converted to retail space.
The rotunda lobby is dominated by eight fluted Corinthian columns and a ceiling that is decorated with colorful murals of classical scenes. This and other interior spaces were designed by Leif Neandross, chief designer of the Rambusch Decorating Company.
The auditorium seating capacity is approximately 1,506, one of the largest in the Theater District. The stage is among the largest and best-equipped of all of New York's theaters. A large plaster-of-Paris crown rests above the proscenium.