The Untold History of Sony Hall - Home of BroadwayWorld's 20th Anniversary Concert

The star-studded concert event will take place on Sunday, May 21, 2023.

By: May. 20, 2023
The Untold History of Sony Hall - Home of BroadwayWorld's 20th Anniversary Concert
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Do you have a burning Broadway question? Dying to know more about an obscure Broadway fact? Broadway historian and self-proclaimed theatre nerd Jennifer Ashley Tepper is here to help with her new series, Broadway Deep Dive. Every month, BroadwayWorld will be accepting questions from theatre fans like you. If you're lucky, your question might be selected as the topic of her next column!

Submit your Broadway question in the comments here!

In this special edition of Broadway Deep Dive, Tepper uncovers the untold history of Sony Hall- where BroadwayWorld will celebrate our 20th Anniversary with a star-studded concert event on Sunday, May 21, 2023.

On May 21st, BroadwayWorld will be celebrating their 20th anniversary with an all-star concert at Sony Hall. Co-hosted by Chita Rivera and Richie Ridge, and directed by Richard Jay-Alexander, the concert lineup is chock full of Broadway favorites and will be a thrilling night on 46th Street!

But what is the story of Sony Hall? When you've walked by its marquee on 46th Street, on the same block as the Lunt-Fontanne, current home of Sweeney Todd, and across from the Richard Rodgers, home of Hamilton, have you ever wondered: was Sony Hall ever a Broadway theater?

The venue now known as Sony Hall opened in 1928, and from 1970 to 1982 was indeed a Broadway house! But let's rewind...

In 1928, the Paramount Hotel opened on 46th Street. The hotel near the heart of Times Square was designed by Thomas Lamb, also architect of many glorious theaters, including Broadway's James Earl Jones (formerly Cort) Theatre. 20 stories high, the hotel was said to cost about $5 million to build. It boasted the largest grill in the United States at the time, modeled after the grills of leading restaurants in Europe. For its opening, on June 12, 1928, a party was attended by 600 people, with dinner music led by orchestra director Nahan Franko. The original Broadway production of the musical Good News was playing just across the block.

From 1928 until 1938, the basement level of the building was the Paramout Hotel's grill room. The venue with the largest grill in America had a capacity of 850 people for fine dining and entertainment. During its first decade of life, the room's activities included election night events and celebratory dinners for public figures. One was a historic 1929 dinner for Captain George Fried and Chief Officer Harry Manning, officers on the SS America ocean liner who rescued those on the SS Florida.

The Paramount Hotel's grill room was brought to trial in 1930 for serving liquor during prohibition. Along with several other New York hotels, the Paramount was accused of having broken the law, and the grill room was padlocked. Reportedly, several undercover officers had been sent to the grill room in spring of 1929 and all had been served whiskey and champagne disguised as ginger ale.

In 1938, the venue previously known as the Paramount Hotel's grill room became the iconic Billy Rose's Diamond Horseshoe. Billy Rose, the producer, impresario, theatre owner, lyricist, and one-time husband of Fanny Brice, opened this nightclub which lit up 46th Street until 1951. When it opened, the nightclub boasted two shows every night at 8pm and midnight, and tickets for just $1! A new marquee shaped like a horseshoe was raised on 46th Street and the venue was often booked with glamorous, lavish, themed revues filled with showgirls, cabaret artists, and theatre makers of the time. In 1945, a movie called Diamond Horseshoe, with a fictional story set in the nightclub, was filmed at the venue starring Betty Grable and Dick Haymes.

When Billy Rose's Diamond Horseshoe closed at the start of the 1950s, the nightclub was transformed into a theater. Over the next few decades, the theater would be home to children's theatre, burlesque, vaudeville, films, Yiddish theatre, LGBTQ+ plays, and even a few legitimate off-Broadway and Broadway productions. Known as the Stairway Theatre, the Mayfair Theatre, and the Century Theatre, the venue presented everything from The Littlest Clown, a children's play with Elaine Stritch as guest director in 1970 to Waltz of the Stork, a 1982 semi-autobiographical Broadway play created by and starring Melvin Van Peebles. Whether the work being presented at a given time was considered Broadway, Off-Broadway, or given another distinction was largely based both on what contracts the production was on, and what was decided by critics and award administration committees at a given time.

Also presented during these years was Hang Down Your Head and Die (1964) an off-Broadway play which featured future Hair creators Jim Rado and Gerome Ragni, The Castro Complex (1970) starring Raul Julia (1970), Tubstrip (1974) an erotic gay play featuring pornstars, with significance in the LGBTQ+ artistic canon, Dance with Me (1975) a musical set in the subway which ran 396 performances after transferring from The Public Theatre, The American Dance Machine (1978), a show which was billed as "A 'Living Archive' of Broadway Theatre Dance; great theatre dances saved from oblivion", and a return engagement of the original Broadway production of the hit play On Golden Pond (1979).

For many years, from the early 1980s to the early 2010s, the venue was closed and in disrepair, selectively opened for rare private events-including a lunch in Andy Warhol's memory after his 1987 memorial. Then, in 2013, the space on 46th Street underneath the Paramount Hotel reopened as the Diamond Horseshoe yet again. The show to reopen the venue was Queen of the Night, a large-scale immersive theatrical production that also included circus and food elements. The venue closed again in 2015 and was home to only private events for several years before its 2018 opening as Sony Hall.

Since 2018, the former Paramount Hotel grill room/ Diamond Horseshoe/ Broadway and off-Broadway theater has welcomed audiences as Sony Hall, a concert venue featuring a wide variety of eclectic musical acts.

Snag the last few tickets to BroadwayWorld's 20th Anniversary Concert today!