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Theater Stories: A Ziegfeld Follies Ghost, the Impact of THE LION KING & More About The New Amsterdam Theatre!

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Learn history, fun facts & more about the New Amsterdam Theatre!

Theater Stories: A Ziegfeld Follies Ghost, the Impact of THE LION KING & More About The New Amsterdam Theatre!

It is impossible to walk into a Broadway theatre, or simply just think of a Broadway theatre, without immediately connecting a memory to it. Every Broadway theatre is filled with a rich and colorful history, brimming over with stories of the stars who graced its staged, legends that were made within its walls, and the feelings we all have of looking back and thinking "I saw a Tony winning performance in that theater" or "I wish I'd seen that performance in that theater."

Whether a theater has a history that's a hundred years old or closer to forty, every Broadway theater tells a story, each one filled with fun facts you never knew!

With our new series, Theater Stories, we're bringing you tidbits you may have never heard, tales you never thought to ask about and more, giving you a better look into the history of Broadway theatres, as well as a leg-up on your next theater-trivia night.

Today's Theater Stories features The New Amsterdam Theatre!


When was the New Amsterdam Theatre Built?

The New Amsterdam Theatre is one of the oldest Broadway theatres, having opened in 1903, sharing rank with the The Hudson and Lyceum Theatres, which were also built in 1903! The New Amsterdam was built by A.L. Erlanger and Marcus Klaw, and designed by Herts & Tallant, who went on to build the New German Theatre, the Fulton, the Gaiety, the Liberty, the Lyceum, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Once known as "the House Beautiful", the exterior of the theatre features Beaux-Arts architecture, and the interior is Art Nouveau. Both the exterior and the interior of the theatre are New York City landmarks, and the building has been added to the National Register of Historic Places. The first production to take the stage at the New Amsterdam Theatre was a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream in 1903.

Did you know the New Amsterdam Theatre was home to the Ziegfeld Follies?

Florenz Edward Ziegfeld Jr.'s famed Ziegfeld Follies toook up residence at the New Amsterdam Theatre from 1913 to 1927. The producers of the Ziegfeld Follies were none other than Klaw & Erlanger, who were responsible for building the New Amsterdam Theatre. The Ziegfeld Follies featured lavish shows, some of the world's most famous entertainers, and was known for its chorus girls, commonly referred to as Ziegfeld Girls. Performers who appeared in Ziegfeld's shows include Fanny Brice, Josephine Baker, Bob Hope, W. C. Fields, Eddie Cantor, Ann Pennington, Nora Bayes, Bert Williams, Eva Tanguay, Will Rogers, and more.

Did you know the New Amsterdam did not always operate as a Broadway theatre?

The New Amsterdam Theatre closed as a Broadway theatre due to the effects of The Great Depression in 1936, and reopened as a movie theater in 1937. Eventually, the theatre fell into disrepair and was left unused for many years. The Walt Disney Company signed a 99-year lease on the New Amsterdam Theatre (it is now home to the Disney Theatrical offices!) in the early 90s and began a massive restoration on the building, bringing it back to its original glory. In 1997, the New Amsterdam reopened with the premiere of the Hercules film and a limited engagement of a concert version of King David, before bringing The Lion King to the stage.

How big of an impact did The Lion King have on the New Amsterdam Theatre?

The Lion King originally opened in previews on October 15, 1997 and officially opened on November 13, 1997. The Lion King is currently the third longest running Broadway show in history after The Phantom of the Opera and the 1996 revival of Chicago, and is the highest grossing Broadway show of all time, having grossed over $1.5 billion. Featuring direction and costume design by Julie Taymor, as well as music by Elton John, lyrics by Tim Rice, and book by Roger Allers, The Lion King won 6 Tony Awards, for Best Musical, Best Direction of a Musical, Best Choreography, Best Scenic Design, Best Costume Design, Best Lighting Design. The Lion King moved from the New Amsterdam Theatre to the Minskoff Theatre in 2006 (where it is still running), to allow Mary Poppins to take the stage.

Did you know there was a 'Roof Garden' atop the New Amsterdam?

The New Amsterdam Roof Garden was added to the theatre in 1904. The rooftop space featured 680 seats, and when The Ziegfeld Follies took over the theatre, Florenz Ziegfield opened a night club in the space, presenting shows that were racier than what was being shown on the main stage below. The Midnight Frolics, as it was called, stayed open for years, until ultimately being shutdown due to Prohibition. During the years in which the New Amsterdam operated as a movie theatre, many Broadway shows rehearsed up in the Roof Garden, including the original productions of My Fair Lady, Gypsy, Camelot, Death of a Salesman, A View From the Bridge, and A Streetcar Named Desire.

What show is currently playing the New Amsterdam Theatre?

Aladdin opened at the New Amsterdam Theatre on March 20, 2014 and has been playing ever since! Aladdin, featuring book by Chad Beguelin, music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Beguelin, is one of the highest grossing Broadway productions of all time, having grossed close to $500 million. Aladdin was nominated for five Tony awards, winning one for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical by James Monroe Iglehart as the Genie. Aladdin has been seen all over the world, with productions having opened in the West End, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Singapore, Japan and in states all across the US.

Did you know the New Amsterdam Theatre has a ghost?

It is a well-known lore in the theatre community that the New Amsterdam Theatre has a ghost who haunts the decadent space. Olive Thomas, one of the beautiful chorus girls of The Ziegfeld Follies died in 1920 of mercury poising, and whether her death was an accident, suicide, or even murder remains a mystery. Over the years, many who have worked at the New Amsterdam claimed to have witnessed an Olive sighting. So the next time you're in the New Amsterdam, keep your eyes peeled and you might just be greeted by a ghost of theatre's past.


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From This Author Chloe Rabinowitz