Last week a story in the News-Times caught my eye.
The story focused on what the actors, dancers, costume designers and others who normally work on Broadway are doing now that COVID-19 has shut down all the theatres.
I couldn’t help but reminisce about some of the great shows the Fun Club has seen on Broadway through the years. And I couldn’t help but think about an interesting tour at the New Amsterdam Theatre we experienced five years ago. This theatre has an amazing history and is the most glamorous theatre in New York City.
New Amsterdam Theatre
The New Amsterdam is currently the home of Disney Productions on Broadway. If it hadn’t been for COVID-19, I’m sure the musical spectacular “Aladdin,” with its glitzy costumes, magic carpet and great choreography, would still be bringing in a packed house. Unfortunately, this famed theatre, like every other theatre on Broadway, is currently closed.
Let me tell you why I have fond memories of the tour. The New Amsterdam opened in 1903 and was built to impress. From the beginning it was nicknamed “The House Beautiful” due to its many lavish features. From a construction viewpoint the building is unusual because it includes two theaters, one at street level and another six stories overhead.
Starting in 1913, the theatre hosted the Ziegfeld Follies which featured the biggest stars of the day and a long line of beautiful chorus girls in those opulent productions. The second theatre, which was six stories above in the Roof Garden, hosted a racier sister show of the Follies called the “Midnight Frolics.”
Both shows were extremely successful, but the 1929 Great Depression triggered the gradual decline of the New Amsterdam Theatre. The once beautiful showplace was converted to a movie house. The lavishly decorated box seats were torn out and other parts of the interior were either removed or hidden by remodeling projects. Eventually the theatre closed and the building sat empty.
By the time Disney CEO Michael Eisner became interested in owning a theatre in New York City, the New Amsterdam had fallen into great disrepair. Mushrooms were growing out of the floors, rain was dripping from the ceiling, and birds were flying around inside.
With a team of over 400 experts and an influx of around $40 million, the theatre was restored to its original glory. Great strides were made for accuracy. The missing box seats were recreated from original drawings, paint chips were analyzed and carpeting was matched through old photographs.
Today, the New Amsterdam stands tall on 42nd Street waiting for COVID-19 to disappear so it could reopen with more Disney magic. The Roof Garden, however, will remain closed due to building codes.
Our Fun Club travelers experienced a delightful tour in this grand structure. There was one other aspect to the tour that I will tell you about next week during the second chapter to this column. Stay tuned!
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