Mark Hellinger Theatre

237 West 51st Street / NYC

(from John Kenrick)

Location: Hollywood at 51st St.
Later named: 51st Street, Mark Hellinger
Built: 1930
Opened: April 22, 1930
Seats: originally 1,506 - now 1,603
Architect: Thomas Lamb

WB Hollywood Theatre
51st St. Theatre
Mark Hellinger Theatre
Current use: Times Square Church
      (1991 - present)

Designed by architect Thomas W. Lamb, the theatre was built by Warner Bros. as a deluxe New York City movie palace to showcase their then-revolutionary Vitaphone sound films. It opened as the Warner Bros. Hollywood Theatre on April 22, 1930, with the film Hold Everything.

Although built as a cinema, the stage was made large enough for live performances. The first of these was in 1934, Calling All Stars, a revue with Martha Raye. Live performances were not particularly successful during its first decade.

In 1940, Warner Brothers renamed it the 51st Street Theatre. In 1948, wealthy producer Anthony Brady Farrell purchased the house, renovated it, and renamed it the Mark Hellinger Theatre, in honor of noted Broadway journalist and critic who had recently died in 1948. It opened under its new name on January 22, 1949, with the Farrell produced musical All for Love.

Under Farrell's ownership, the Hellinger Theatre continued to primarily showcase musicals; however, he had greater success as a landlord than producer. Of five musicals Farrell produced, only one, Texas Li'l Darling (1949) ran for more than 200 performances. Two on the Aisle (1951) and Plain and Fancy (1955) had respectable runs, but the venue had it greatest success with the smash hit My Fair Lady which ran from 1956-1962 for a total of 2,717 performances. Other respectable runs included On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1965) and Katharine Hepburn's only Broadway musical, Coco (1969).

The Nederlander Organization purchased the venue in 1970. Jesus Christ Superstar played at the Hellinger from 1971-73 for a total of 711 performances. Sugar Babies ran from 1979 - 1982, for a total of 1,208 performances. Throughout the remainder of the 1980s, the Hellinger continued to showcase musicals, mostly unsuccessful.

In 1991, the Nederlander Organization sold the theatre to the Times Square Church. Before selling, Nederlander allegedly refused a purchase offer from British impresario Cameron Mackintosh. The Times Square Church has maintained the theatre's interior decor intact and it is open to the public regularly for services and tours.

Although the front entrance to the building currently is located on 51st Street, this was originally a side entrance. The main entrance was a small, unassuming entrance at 1655 Broadway, with a narrow lobby leading to a Grand Foyer on 51st Street. In 1930, it was desirable for a first-run motion picture theatre in Times Square to have an entrance, no matter how small, on Broadway. These doors were sealed off in 1934.

The rococo interior is typical of the 1920s movie palace design. The coved ceiling has dozens of murals reminiscent of Boucher and Watteau, depicting 18th-century French aristocracy.

The spectacular rotunda lobby is dominated by eight fluted Corinthian columns and a ceiling that is decorated with colorful murals of classical scenes. This and other interior spaces were designed by Leif Neandross, chief designer of the Rambusch Decorating Company.

The auditorium seating capacity is approximately 1,506, one of the largest in the theatre district. The stage is among the largest and best-equipped of all of New York's theatres. A large plaster-of-Paris crown rests above the proscenium.

(from Wikipedia)

Notable productions
1949: The Mikado; The Pirates of Penzance
1951: Two on the Aisle
1953: Hazel Flagg
1955: Plain and Fancy; Ankles Aweigh
1956: My Fair Lady
1962: The Sound of Music
1964: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum; Fade Out - Fade In
1965: On a Clear Day You Can See Forever
1966: A Joyful Noise
1967: Illya Darling
1969: Dear World; Coco
1971: Man of La Mancha; Jesus Christ Superstar
1973: Seesaw
1976: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue; Porgy and Bess (Houston Grand Opera)
1977: Shenandoah
1978: Timbuktu!
1978: Platinum
1979: Sugar Babies
1982: A Doll's Life
1983: Merlin
1984: Oliver!
1986: Rags
1988: Legs Diamond

Programs available from this theatre:

  • Plain and Fancy (1955)
  • My Fair Lady (1956)
  • Two On the Aisle (1952)

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