Magazine article USA TODAY

Something Old, Something New

Magazine article USA TODAY

Something Old, Something New

Article excerpt

The resurrection of New York's 42nd Street has been largely attributed to the Disney organization, but there are many other players who are contributing to the startling turnaround. The newest kids on the block--literally--are the Roundabout Theatre Company and the American Airlines Theatre. Their joint effort is a welcome addition to the rebirth of the famed street.

The transformation of the venerable 80-year-old Selwyn Theater--once a proud host to glittering Broadway shows, but fallen into disrepair as the grimy home of B-movies--into the sparkling American Airlines Theatre has been a starcrossed one, complete with a collapse of the Selwyn's gutted shell just two days before the end of 1997. This required the new entity to rise like a phoenix from a mountain of debris, though the bird it most closely resembles in its beauty is a peacock. The famed murals that once decorated the walls and ceiling of the Selwyn have been restored; the new theater, with seating reduced from 950 to around 750 for greater comfort and improved sight lines, is like a jewel box; and the Penthouse Lobby and VIP lounge harken back to Broadway's Golden Age.

The Penthouse Lobby overlooks the 43rd Street side of the blockwide theater. Perched above the auditorium, it provides an open-air view of midtown Manhattan from its terrace. The VIP room, thanks to its sponsorship by Nabisco Inc., has already earned the fond nickname, the Oreo Lounge. Nabisco and American Airlines' financial backing represent further evidence of Corporate America's incursions into the world of culture and the arts, but seeing what their contributions have wrought, few can rationally argue that such backing is unwelcome. Ironically, more than one theatergoer was heard to comment that, if the airline's seating--especially the legroom--matched that of the new theater, it would attract a lot more fliers.

The Roundabout Theatre Company, the proud tenant of the transformed space, dates back to 1965. The nonprofit organization's nomadic existence that saw it roam from one venue to another, often just one step ahead of the wrecking ball, should come to an end with its occupancy of the American Airlines Theatre. The company's revivals of classic plays and musicals, such as "She Loves Me," "The Rainmaker," "A View from the Bridge" and "Anna Christie," reached its apex with the award-winning production of "Cabaret," which continues to be a cash cow financing the Roundabout's future schedule. …

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