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Theater Stories: INTO THE WOODS Ghost Stories, the Sequel to BYE BYE BIRDIE and More About the Al Hirschfeld Theatre

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Learn history, fun facts and more about The Al Hirschfeld Theatre.

Theater Stories: INTO THE WOODS Ghost Stories, the Sequel to BYE BYE BIRDIE and More About the Al Hirschfeld 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 Al Hirschfeld Theatre!


Did you know the Al Hirschfeld Theatre was originally called the Martin Beck Theatre?

Theater Stories: INTO THE WOODS Ghost Stories, the Sequel to BYE BYE BIRDIE and More About the Al Hirschfeld Theatre

The theatre opened in 1924, and was built by Vaudeville theatre owner, manager, and promoter Martin Beck, founder of the famous Orpheum Circuit. The theatre was called the Martin Beck until 2003, when it was renamed for Al Hirschfeld, the caricaturist famous for his drawings of Broadway stars, musicians and more. Those immortalized by Hirschfeld's caricatures include Cole Porter, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, The Beatles, Elvis Presley and more. Hirschfeld was also responsible for the original movie posters for films such as The Wizard of Oz.

Who was Martin Beck?

Martin Beck was a vaudeville theatre owner and manager, who was born in 1868 and died in 1940. In addition to being the founder of the Orpheum Circuit, Beck built both the Palace and Martin Beck Theatres on Broadway. Born in Slovakia, Beck came to the United States in 1884. In 1910 he formed the United Booking Offices with Alfred Butt. Later in his life, Beck managed the booking office at RKO and brought the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company from London to America. Also notable in Beck's history, was his friendship with Harry Houdini! Beck booked Houdini on the Orpheum vaudeville circuit, and he performed at top houses all over the country, with Beck eventually arranging for him to tour Europe in the early 1900s.

Who was Al Hirschfeld?

Al Hirschfeld, famous for his caricatures of Broadway, film, and music stars, was born in 1903 and died in 2003. Broadway press agent Richard Maney showed one of Hirschfeld's drawings to an editor at the New York Herald Tribune in the early 1900s, which got Hirschfeld commissions for that newspaper and eventually The New York Times. Hirschfeld's work appeared in The Old World, The New Yorker Magazine, Collier's, The American Mercury, TV Guide, New York magazine, Rolling Stone and more. In 2002, Al Hirschfeld was awarded the National Medal of Arts.

What physical characteristics of the Al Hirschfeld make the theatre unique?

The Al Hirschfeld Theatre is one of the only Broadway theaters to have an outdoor box office window. On the building's exterior is an old-fashioned ticket booth that says 'Martin Beck Theatre', a feature kept after the renaming of the theatre to honor its original namesake. Another special element of the theatre, is that when the theatre was built in 1924, it was designed to be the most opulent of its time- the building features dressing rooms for 200 actors.

Is the Al Hirschfeld theatre haunted?

It just may be! One actor who claimed to have had a haunted experience in the Al Hirschfeld theatre was Joanna Gleason, during the run of Into The Woods. She said that every Sunday after the matinee, she would close all the lids to her makeup and group everything together in the middle of the table. Gleason said that a few months into the run she noticed that when she would come in to the theatre for the start of the week, makeup items would be moved down to the end of the table. One week, on the mirror appeared the letter 'M'. She wiped it off, only for it to reappear later. Years later she spoke with someone who said their mother who had died years ago had worked in the Al Hirschfeld theatre. She was one of the members of the staff who cleaned the dressing rooms. She loved to go look at the stars' makeup. Her name started with the letter M.

Did you know that the go-to hangout next to the theatre used to be Ted Hook's Backstage?

What is now Private Eyes Gentlemen's Club used to be Ted Hook's Backstage! Ted Hook was a performer who appeared in over 400 films before he opened his own restaurant and bar in 1973. At Ted Hook's each table had a lamp with a star's name on it, and when that star came to the restaurant the lampshade with their name on it would be brought to their table. Those who could be seen at Ted Hook's included Liza Minnelli, Richard Burton, Robin Williams, Meryl Streep and more.

What well-known people and shows have played the Al Hirschfeld?

Famous performances in the theatre include Richard Gere in Bent; Frank Langella in Dracula; Elizabeth Taylor in The Little Foxes; Christina Applegate in Sweet Charity; David Hyde Pierce as Lt. Coffi in the musical Curtains; Daniel Radcliffe in the most recent revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and more. Famous productions that have run in the Al Hirschfeld theatre include On the Town, Bye Bye Birdie, Oliver!, The Rink, and more.

What is the longest-running show at the Al Hirschfeld theatre?

Kinky Boots! Kinky Boots ran at the Al Hirschfeld from April 4, 2013 to April 7, 2019, a total of 2507 performances. The musical featured music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper and book by Harvey Fierstein, and starred Stark Sands, Billy Porter, Annaleigh Ashford, Lena Hall and more. Kinky Boots won six Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and is currently 26th longest running show of all time.

What show most recently inhabited the Al Hirschfeld Theatre?

The Al Hirschfeld theatre is currently home to Moulin Rouge! Moulin Rouge! Moulin Rouge! opened on July 25th, 2019, and stars Aaron Tveit and Karen Olivo. The production set new box office records for the theatre, and the cast album charted at #115 on the US Billboard 200.

Did you know the sequel to Bye Bye Birdie played the Al Hirschfeld theatre?

Yes, there was a sequel to Bye Bye Birdie! Bring Back Birdie, which featured a book by Michael Stewart, lyrics by Lee Adams, and music by Charles Strouse, followed Conrad Birdie, trying to make a comeback at the Grammy Awards. The musical debuted at the Al Hirschfeld (then the Martin Beck Theatre) in 1981, and ran for four performances.


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