BWW Exclusive: Counting Down to Jennifer Ashley Tepper's THE UNTOLD STORIES OF BROADWAY, VOLUME 3 - The Belasco Theatre
Have you ever wanted to spend time with Stephen Sondheim in the lobby during one of his shows? Did you know that Patti LuPone once had a Broadway ghostly encounter? Have you wondered what it was like to be in the landmark Broadway premiere of Angels in America?
From opening nights to closing nights. From secret passageways to ghostly encounters. From Broadway debuts to landmark productions. Score a front row seat to read hundreds of stories about the most important stages in the world, seen through the eyes of the producers, actors, stagehands, 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.
DRESS CIRCLE PUBLISHING will release THE UNTOLD STORIES OF BROADWAY, VOLUME 3, the latest in a series by acclaimed historian and producer Jennifer Ashley Tepper on Tuesday, November 15. To pre-order the book, please visit www.dresscirclepublishing.com.
This is the third book in a series that will tell the stories of all of the Broadway theaters. Volume 3 includes the Broadhurst, the Belasco, the Edison, the Lyric, the Majestic, the Schoenfeld, the St. James and the Walter Kerr: eight Broadway theaters that light up New York City.
Below, BroadwayWorld is excited to give you a sneak peek of the new book, with a look at: The Edison Theatre...
Did You Know:
The Belasco elevator was once used to carry chorus girls from the stage to Belasco's apartment above the theater?
In 1913, the tiny elevator at the Belasco was the subject of the theatrical columns for the week when six people, Belasco included, were trapped for several hours. The state-of-the-art elevator would not allow its doors to open unless the vehicle was exactly aligned with a specific floor. After a meeting in his offices about an upcoming ceremony in honor of actress Sarah Bernhardt, Belasco found himself stuck in the vestibule with a handful of fellow luminaries, after one jokingly pushed several buttons. Between security, Belasco's staff, and several family members, no one could pry the doors open. Eventually, an electric company had to go into the elevator pit and prop cement blocks underneath the elevator until it aligned with a floor and allowed its inhabitants to go free.
That elevator was also how Belasco escorted several ladies into the Belasco apartment. David Belasco was notorious for his seduction of leading ladies and chorus girls, who would go straight from his shows up to his apartment in the rickety theater elevator. One game frequently played was his asking them to confess their sins as they removed a piece of clothing for each one.
Since the elevator is now out of use, the only way that remains to reach the Belasco apartment is through a hidden door in the house.
Did You Know:
Many artists who've worked at the Belasco have had ghostly experiences?
Fritz Weaver, Actor
The Belasco is a great old theater. The production of Arthur Miller's The Crucible that I got to perform there was beautiful. I played Deputy-Governor Danforth. It's a powerful play about the Salem Witch Trials in 17th century Massachusetts.
Arthur Miller was always present at our rehearsals. One night, when we were rehearsing in the theater, Miller told me that I scared him. He said, "When you started to be influenced by the children who were insisting people were witches, I so deeply believed you that it was terrifying."
I had a moment in the play where I'd look up and say the line, "They're out there." Miller told me, "Today the look in your eyes when you said it really told me that you saw witches out there!" The truth was that I had looked up into the Belasco and thought I saw a ghost.
Did You Know:
The Belasco apartment was full of unexpected features?
The Belasco apartment was built in 1909, shortly after the theater opened. The Duplex has not been truly occupied since the death of Belasco himself in 1931.
A grand apartment complex numbering ten rooms high above the theater, the Belasco apartments had dozens of Unique Features. Priest holes, the hiding spaces used by Catholic clergy in case of an attack where they were in danger, were built into the walls. Belasco insisted that he needed these for protection. To contrast, there were also Japanese wall panels that hid pornography, as well as historic treasures including a pew from Shakespeare's church and a chair that once belonged to Napoleon, as well as a lock of his hair.
The complex not only included a living area, with a bedroom. There was also a library, a steam room, a dance floor, and even a water fortress called "the Grotto". After transporting ladies from the theater upstairs in the elevator, Belasco had them first enter the Grotto, where they were romanced by waterfalls and waterworks, innovative for their time, in his own personal abode. The apartment area of The Duplex was entered by coming first onto an oak balcony and then descending an ornate staircase.
According to one stagehand I spoke to, Belasco's bedroom area had a balcony that overlooked the dance floor so that he could easily select which guest at a party he wanted to take to bed. Much in the apartment was designed by Belasco's prop men and stagehands, so expensive antiques were mingled with furniture that might have been created for scenic design downstairs. Many seemingly fancy items were actually made of plaster. However, gorgeous Tiffany glasswork in The Duplex matched that found inside the theater. There was a fireplace made of 200-year-old blue, green, and orange Alhambra tiles from Spain.
David Belasco also had a peep hole, which associates knew he used to spy on the proceedings downstairs on stage.
Jennifer Ashley Tepper is the Director of Programming at Feinstein's/ 54 Below, and the author of The Untold Stories of Broadway book series. As the leader of Feinstein's/ 54 Below's creative team, Tepper has curated or produced over 1500 shows, ranging from musicals in concert, to original solo acts, to theatrical reunions, to songwriter celebrations, and beyond. On Broadway, Tepper has worked on shows in directing, producing, and marketing capacities, including [title of show], The Performers, the 2011 revival of Godspell, and the 2013 revival of Macbeth. In addition, she is the co-creator of the Bistro Award-winning concert series, "If It Only Even Runs A Minute," now in its 6th year. Tepper was recently named one of the 10 professionals on Backstage's "1st Annual Broadway Future Power List." According to the article, "Proving herself both a zeitgeist predictor and theatrical historian with her eclectic programming, Tepper is leading the conversation on contemporary musical theatre." Follow her on twitter @jenashtep.