BWW Exclusive: Counting Down to Jennifer Ashley Tepper's THE UNTOLD STORIES OF BROADWAY, VOLUME 2 - The Criterion Center Stage Right
To celebrate the publication of The Untold Stories of Broadway, Volume 2 on November 18 by Dress Circle Publishing, Jennifer Ashley Tepper will be sharing three short excerpts about each of the Broadway theaters featured in the book-countdown style! Today: The Criterion Center Stage Right!
The second book in a multivolume collection examines eight Broadway theaters and over 70 years of theatrical history through the voices of such Broadway greats as Jason Robert Brown, Joanna Gleason, Jonathan Groff,Jeremy Jordan, Laura Linney, Joe Mantello, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Robert Morse, Harold Prince, Charles Strouse, Alex Timbers, Julie Taymor, Robert Wankel, George C. Wolfe and more. The eight Broadway theaters featured in the second book are the Palace Theatre, the Barrymore Theatre, the Gershwin Theatre, the Circle in the Square, the Shubert Theatre, the Criterion Center Stage Right, the Vivian Beaumont Theatre and the Nederlander Theatre.
Have you ever wanted to sneak behind the curtain of some of Broadway's greatest hits, including Wicked, Rent, and A Chorus Line? Do you wonder what secret Tom Bosley told Robert Morse about Sardi's or what Patti LuPone revealed to Raúl Esparza about Broadway dressing rooms? Are you dying to know what Laura Linney learned as a young understudy, watching Stockard Channing on stage each night?
From opening nights to closing nights. From secret passageways to ghostly encounters. From Broadway debuts to landmark productions. Score a front row seat to hear hundreds of stories about the most important stages in the world, seen through the eyes of the producers, actors, stage hands, writers, musicians, company managers, dressers, designers, directors, ushers, and door men who bring The Great White Way to life each night. You'll never look at Broadway the same way again. The Untold Stories of Broadway, Volume 2 is the second book in a multi-volume series that will tell the stories of all of the Broadway houses.
The Criterion Center Stage Right
Did You Know:
The Spot Where The Times Square Toys "R" Us Now Stands Was Once A Broadway Theater?
In 1895, theatrical impresario Oscar Hammerstein I (grandfather of the important writer of the same name) built an entertainment complex on Broadway between 44th and 45th Streets. It was called the Olympia, and its existence was a huge signal that the theatre district was moving uptown to Longacre Square. (The area would be renamed Times Square a decade later when the New York Times set up offices there.)
At the Olympia, a theatergoer could buy a 50 cent ticket, and gain admission to a theater, a music hall, a concert hall, a billiard hall, a roof garden, a café, and a bowling alley! 19th century entertainment seekers were so excited about this that the Olympia was mobbed by thousands when it opened, with patrons trampled and fire marshals called to the scene. The theater within the complex was called the Lyric, but when Charles Frohman took over the lease in 1898, it became the Criterion. In 1914, the Criterion became one of Times Square's first major movie theaters, and was briefly renamed the Vitagraph Theatre. Meanwhile, the very first editions of the Ziegfeld Follies were being presented in the roof garden space. The entire Olympia complex was demolished in 1935. A brand-new building was constructed in its place, containing retail space, the International Casino, and the new Criterion movie theater. The International Casino was not a casino at all; it was a "theatre restaurant," offering dinner and deluxe revues and featuring every amusement from comedians to orchestras to circus acts. Within a few years, the International Casino closed and Bond clothing store moved into much of the building's space, erecting large signage in the center of Times Square. This signage at times included the messaging "Every hour, 3490 people buy at Bond," featured a giant electric zipper, and boasted the site's noteworthy clock inside the "O" of "BOND," which would be a trademark of the area for years to come. Meanwhile, the Criterion was hosting notable film premieres. Crazily enough, considering the patterns of evolution in Times Square today, the new building was far shorter than its predecessor, the Olympia.
In the late 1970s, Bond clothing moved out and the building was empty for a while, a languishing relic in the center of a dirty, crime-ridden theatre district. In 1980, the ever-indefatigable building was given new life when the Criterion was converted from one major screen to a five-screen movie complex, and the Bond store was converted to one of New York's largest disco and rock venues, called the Bond International Casino, a reference to the live entertainment of the past. When The Clash played the Bond International Casino at the height of their popularity in 1981, thousands stormed the venue, causing the same chaos as had happened on the same spot in 1895 when the Olympia opened.
In 1989, portions of both the casino and movie theater complex were taken over to make way for a Broadway theater-the first legitimate house on the spot since 1920-and a new cabaret space as well.
Did You Know:
The Criterion Center Stage Right Was A Very Oddly Shaped Theater?
Kathleen Marshall, Director/Choreographer
My second Broadway show was She Loves Me at the Criterion Center. I was an assistant choreographer. I later choreographed 1776 there.
The space made for a wonderful experience for the audience, because it was sort of like a little amphitheater. It was odd because there wasn't any proper fly space. The whole theater was kind of like a piece of pie, if you can picture it. The audience was like the curve of the pie, and backstage actually came to a point. You had to figure that out. Both shows I did there had turntables, which was not a coincidence. That was a good solution to the fact that there was not proper wing space.
For She Loves Me, the orchestra was on this top platform, but for 1776, the orchestra was actually lined up along the two walls. The conductor was at the point upstage, facing downstage. Although we couldn't see them, they were all behind the set. They were situated like they were on a bus, one behind another, in a "V," facing the conductor. That theater was fun, but always a design challenge.
Did You Know:
The Criterion Was Only A Broadway House For A Decade But It Made A Lot Of History During That Time?
Danny Burstein, Actor
The Criterion Center felt a little bit like a smaller Marquis Theatre: modern and corporate and new. It felt a little like being out-of-town, even though you were on Broadway.
It was a good theater for Company, and a perfect-sized house. After our planned run was over, we were all set to move to a commercial run on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson. The marquee had gone up, and posters were everywhere-and then the show was cancelled, one week before we were supposed to start rehearsal. There were issues with the producer; he made certain demands that Scott Ellis, Stephen Sondheim, and George Furth didn't jive with, and the whole thing was cancelled. It was heartbreaking, because we all loved the show-and I had a kid on the way. It was a very important time in my life. But those are the breaks; that's the business. One day, you're up, and the next day, not so much.
George Furth was lovely. He was fantastic and a genius. I did Merrily We Roll Along off-Broadway first, and worked with him there. He was unlike anyone I've ever met-he was this child-like character, but also a bit like an old woman. He was brilliant and funny, and constantly having these little tiffs with people. I remember one time when Jim Clow went on for Boyd Gaines. Boyd had an issue with his throat, so Jim jumped into playing Bobby with almost no rehearsal. What he did was outrageously hard. We were in previews, and after the show I remember George grabbed him backstage, and hollered, "Jim, you were incredible! You have the constitution of a lesbian!" That was George.
The Untold Stories of Broadway, Volume 2 can be pre-ordered by visiting Dress Circle Publishing and will officially release on November 18, 2014. For more information please visit www.dresscirclepublishing.com.