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BroadwayWorld Book Club Week Seven Discussion Prompts: The Mark Hellinger Theatre

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Swing
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Below are the discussion questions/prompts for the seventh chapter of The Untold Stories of Broadway: The Mark Hellinger Theatre! Feel free to answer as many questions as you would like to get the conversation going! The author of The Untold Stories of Broadway, Jennifer Ashley Tepper, will be hosting a Facebook Live Q & A at 12pm ET today! Please post any questions here that you would like her to answer!

·       Did you ever have the chance to see a show in the Mark Hellinger Theatre? Have you ever been in the Times Square Church? Do you want to go inside and see it after reading this chapter?

·       Almost everyone in this chapter spoke about how beautiful the theater was. Which current Broadway theater do you happen to find the most beautiful?

·       The original production of My Fair Lady was in the Mark Hellinger Theatre. Did you have the chance to see the most recent My Fair Lady revival?

·       What is your favorite story from this chapter?

·       Gene O’Donovan said, “The great thing about this business is that so many people will teach you.” Personally, what is your favorite thing about the world of theater?

 

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Wick3
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Wow the Times Square church got a great deal on the Mark Hellinger theater buying it from the Nederlanders for $17 million back in 1995! 

 

ortizki
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I love learning about lost Broadway theaters. Even though the Hellinger is no longer used as a theater, I'm glad that it's still standing and that the Times Square Church kept the beauty of the interior!

Unfortunately, I never got the chance to see a show there (the theater closed in 1989, and I was born six years later, in 1995!). I actually used to work across the street from the church, and never even thought to take a peek inside, or even take a stroll-by for that matter! I did, however, go into the McDonalds a few times. I had no idea that it used to be the entrance of the theater at one point! After reading this chapter and learning more about the Hellinger, I would love to take the time to go inside and explore it. 

Broadway has so many beautiful theaters, but one that I find truly beautiful is the New Amsterdam Theatre. I've seen two shows there (Mary Poppins and Aladdin), and really find it a historical and magical place to be. The auditorium is massive but somehow allows you to feel like you're back in the 1900s. I had no idea you could take a tour of it! That's definitely on my Broadway Bucket List to do one day. 

Every time I think of the Hellinger I think of My Fair Lady. I think it's great how you can connect a show with a theater, like Wicked to the Gershwin or Rent to the Nederlander! Unfortunately, I never got to see the recent revival of My Fair Lady. Hopefully, when the lockdown is over, I can see the show on tour!

There were so many interesting stories from this chapter, but I think my favorite would have to be Brig Berney's story of how he struck up a conversation with Bruce Vilanch, who wrote the book of Platinum (that was playing the Hellinger at the time), and invited him inside to view a tech rehearsal. What a great story that eventually inspired him to become a Company Manager! This story actually has inspired me to be open to making connections in the theatre world. In another life, I would love to become a Broadway/Musical Theatre Historian!

Theatre has so many ways of leaving a mark on people. One of my favorite things about the world of theatre is that for a certain amount of time, you can escape into another world, whether it's seeing a musical live on stage or listening to a cast recording. I think it's true when people say that theatre has changed lives for the better. It certainly has for me. 

 

Jarethan
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A gorgeous theatre with the most beautifull lobby, yet any time I went there I thought (even before Follies) that it looked like a slightly disheveled grande dame.  I hate to say it , but Follies would have been very suited to it.  But what bones, and they did a better job with the auditorium that the lobby.

Saw a lot of shows at the theatre, well into its fallow period before I started attending.  The first show I ever saw there was On A Clear Day, which was mediocre and enjoyable.  Also  saw a who's who of  mediocre shows, including A Joyful Noise, Platinum, Merlin (which I always forget I saw, blocking it out I guess), Sarava (UGH! in particular), 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Illya Darling, a revival of Oliver., and a terrible production of Macbeth with Glenda Jackson and Christopher Plummer.  The only shows that I saw there that I enjoyed were JC Superstar, which should have run longer, based on audience reaction alone; Dear World, a mediocre musical with moments of real strength, Lansbury, most of the score,  and a number of individual numbers ; and, in particular, Coco.  I loved Coco, saw it twice and would have seen it a third time were I able to get tickets.  Much maligned, it was a lot more fun than Applause, although Purlie should have won Best Musical.  Hepburn was great, the score and lyrics were and arei underappreciated, sets were excellent, costumes were gorgeous, and the 'choreography' by Michael Bennett was perfect for the show.

This theatre really had bad luck...not a single real hit from 1965 until it became a church, although Coco was a hard ticket until Hepburn left.

Such a shame!!

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Someone in a Tree2
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I spent months at the Hellinger working on its last theatrical occupant, the infamous LEGS DIAMOND. Beyond the fabled lobby and auditorium, the Hellinger also had a remarkably deep stage for a Bway theater. Most theaters have a back wall 25' to 30' upstage from the fire curtain. But the Hellinger's deck space extended beyond the hard back wall for another 12' to 15' of lower-ceilinged storage space, which was a godsend for countless shows with too much scenery to store just in the wings. I always viewed it as such a crime that this theater of all those on Bway would be lost to theatrical use since the late 80's.

 

Updated On: 5/11/20 at 06:11 PM
Jarethan
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What was it like at the theatre during that run?  I have always wondered what it must be like working on a show that has terrible press, walkouts, people must know is terrible, etc.  Was it depressing to be around the theatre?  Serious question and NOT intended to be obnoxious...more about how you go through the process of putting on something that you know is a mess.

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>This theatre really had bad luck...not a single real hit from 1965 until it became a church, although Coco was a hard ticket until Hepburn left.<

Sugar Babies played there for over 1200 performances. 

Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.
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Someone in a Tree2
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In answer to Jarethan’s question (in which I honestly hear no snark at all), the truth is for much of that endless preview period on LEGS DIAMOND we were so damn busy trying to get the show to work technically that we couldn’t gage how good or bad the actual musical was. We could see that the show certainly improved hugely from the Start of previews till opening night (thank god) though It was still a long way from you’d call a good show. Of course we on the set design dept were done our jobs by the time the reviews actually came out so we never had to go out and perform each night as the actors did. Still, it had some great sequences that the audiences seemed to genuinely love. The real shame is that Peter Allen was so busy performing that he had no chance to improve any of the crappier music and lyrics. It wasn’t till much later that I understood he was already in failing health due to HIV. For all that, I still have a soft spot for that well-meaning extravaganza that was LEGS.

Updated On: 5/15/20 at 01:20 AM
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Mr Roxy
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I did actually see it. Agree the score was not the greatest but a couple of numbers were good . One of the big disappointments considering all the talent involved. Sad Allen had go out with this . If this had been a hit would this still be an operating theater?
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Jarethan
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Smaxie said: ">This theatre really had bad luck...not a single realhit from 1965 until it became a church, although Coco was a hard ticket until Hepburn left.<

Sugar Babies played there for over 1200 performances.
"

Great point.  I really forgot that, despite having seen it.  I enjoyed it quite a bit; I remember (I was probably in my early 30s then) wondering how Mickey Rooney managed to not drop dead during the performance, since his role must have been incredibly exhausting.  

SOMEONE IN A TREE: Thanks.  I imagine it must be very hard for performers toggle their all if the press is awful and audiences are not enjoying it.  This onesounsds like it did have moments that the audience enjoyed.

MR ROXY: What an intriguing question.  If it ran, say, two years (a good run in those days), by the time it closed, was Broadway yet in 'turnaround', where all theatres were in demand? would the theatre owners have been more willing to give it comedown time, etc.  Really intriguing.

Updated On: 5/15/20 at 01:27 PM