When actor Nathan Lane rolled onto the stage of the former Selwyn
Theater in a wheelchair last month, he inaugurated the most recent
example of the rebirth of Times Square.
It was the opening of the revival of George S. Kaufman and Moss
Hart's American classic "The Man Who Came to Dinner" at The
Roundabout Theater Company, long acclaimed as a leader in reviving
classic shows, at its new home in the heart of the Broadway theater
The Roundabout, the nation's second-largest nonprofit theater
company, behind New York's Lincoln Center Theater, originally staged
its plays in the basement of a Chelsea supermarket in the 1960s. Its
new $25 million home is quite a step up. The new space is
embellished with restored Italian Renaissance-style murals and
lavish wreath moldings.
The most controversial aspect of the new nonprofit Roundabout
theater centers on its corporate sponsorship. In addition to
government grants and an increase in the number of season
subscribers, the budget includes underwriting from American Airlines
- $8.5 million of the overall $25 million cost - in exchange for the
airline's name on the theater. Roundabout also plans to sustain its
new home in part through season subscribers: The total has jumped
from 17,000 in 1983 to the current 46,000.
Other companies have also joined in, including Nabisco, which
gave $500,000 to have the theater's lounge named after it.
But some nonprofit officials have suggested that the Roundabout
company has sold out. Todd Haimes, artistic director of Roundabout,
defends the decision: "As long as the corporate sponsors are not
interested in affecting our artistic decisions, I'm happy to have
Those artistic decisions so far have yielded 13 Tony Awards,
stretching back to the 1985 Best Actress prize for Stockard
Channing's performance in "Joe Egg"; Best Play for "Side Man"; best
revival wins for "Cabaret," "A View from the Bridge," "Anna
Christie," and "Joe Egg"; and several other Tony Awards for acting
The theater has navigated some rough waters since its inception
in 1965. At times, it presented plays in the Chelsea basement to
audiences smaller than the number of actors on stage.
The itinerant group moved into a former movie house, weathered a
bankruptcy filing, resumed operations in an auditorium at the
Fashion Institute of Technology, settled for a time at the Union
Square Theatre, a former union hall, and then took up residency at
the Criterion Center complex in Times Square. …