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Welcome to The 2703

Welcome to The 2703, the brand new Hollywood Pantages Blog. One of the most frequently asked questions we receive is, “How many seats are in the theatre?” The answer to that question and the name of our blog is 2,703. It’s that kind of insider knowledge we want to share with you! Have you ever wondered what happens at the Hollywood Pantages while you’re not here? We want to peak your curiosity, take you behind the scenes, into rehearsal rooms, and out into Hollywood. We want to give back to our audiences that fill The 2703 every performance.

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Revivals

One of the most exciting things about Broadway theatre is the anticipation of that next big smash hit. We have seen it come from the plains of Africa with the Lion King. One time it came in the form of a green girl from Oz and most recently in the form of the ten-dollar Founding Father. But what about the musicals that came before?

We live in a world of movie reboots, re-do’s and sequels. Most get upset upon hearing the news that their favorite childhood film is being rebooted for today’s kids but what about Broadway revivals? If the recent box office record setting sales of the Broadway revival of Hello Dolly staring Bette Midler tells us anything, it’s that the Broadway community welcomes revivals with open arms.

Hello Dolly

This Broadway season was full of big revivals. What is it that keeps us coming back to these classic pieces again and again? Is it nostalgia or is it seeing a new version of an old favorite? There are too many spectacular revivals to mention so we took a look at the four that were nominated for the Best Revival category for the 2016 Tony Awards.

The Color Purple walked away with two Tony Awards for Best Revival of a Musical and Best Actress in a Musical. Not only is this show still running on Broadway but it has pulled in some of the best reviews from the country’s top papers. Below the cast of The Color Purple performs at the 2016 Tony Awards

“My spirit was profoundly moved” Los Angeles Times

“This is a show that pierces and shakes the soul!” Arts Desk

“A mircale on Broadway. A glory to behold!” New York Times

 

The most recent revival of Fiddler on the Roof did quite well for itself earning three Tony Award Nominations for Best Revival, Best Performance by a Lead Actor, and Best Choreography. The show also walked away with two Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Actor and Outstanding Director. Below is the cast of Fiddler on the Roof at the 2015 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

 

In 1964 She Loves Me made it’s New York debut. In 2016 the revival ended up with 8 Tony Nominations and walked away with Best Scenic Design. Television stars Jane Krakowski and Zachary Levi lent their talent along side Lara Benanti to pump new life into this classic. Below the cast of She Loves me performs on the Today Show.

 

If any one revival was unique in its own way it was Deaf West’s Spring Awakening that combined the beauty and music of the 2006 production and added the element of American Sign Language to the coming of age tale. The show ended up with three Tony Nominations for Best Revival, Best Direction, and Best Lighting Design. Below see a collection of clips from the show.

 

What classic Broadway shows would you like to see revived and who would you cast in the lead roles?

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One Night Only

On September 11, 2016, The Hollywood Pantages made history once again by hosting the live filming of the musical Newsies. The show will be aired as a Fathom event in movie theaters across the country next year. In addition to the excitement of a live filming nine original cast members from the Broadway production of Newsies lent their talent for One Night Only.

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The event was invite only but a standby line was available to hardcore Fansies who started lining up at 1am Sunday morning.

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11 cameras were brought in for the filming

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Broadway cast members spent an entire week together rehearsing before the live filming.

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Special merchandise was available for this one time only event.

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The cast dressed and ready to go. From Left Andrew Keenan-Bolger ‘Crutchie’, Kara Lindsay ‘Katherine’, Ben Fankhauser ‘Davey’, and Jeremy Jordan ‘Jack Kelly’

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The audience waiting for the filming to begin

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The Mysterious Howard Hughes

One of the world’s wealthiest men, Howard Robard Hughes Jr. was a Hollywood filmmaker, record-setting aviator and business mogul who once owned a big chunk of Las Vegas and controlled a major U.S. airline (TWA), among other ventures. Later in life, however, he became an eccentric recluse who feared germs and shunned personal hygiene. What does this have to do with the Hollywood Pantages? The infamous Hughes owned, worked and even resided in the theatre.

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Howard Hughes sits at the cockpit of his TWA plane.

Most of what we know about his time as the owner of The Hollywood Pantages is rumor or speculation as he was known to be quite private or even recluse. What we do know is that Hughes purchased the theatre in 1949 and named it the RKO Pantages as part of his national chain of movie houses. He only retained the ‘Pantages’ name due to a contractual stipulation. Hughes had his office and own private screening room on the second floor of the Pantages building. This is still where our offices are located today and the screening room has been converted into our Group Sales office.

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Entrance to our Group Sales Office, formally the projection and screening room of Howard Hughes.

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Holes that were once for the projector have been patched and covered by Lion King artwork in our Group Sales office.

One of the amazing things about working in an 86 year old building is that there is no shortage of character. In many blueprints of the building sinks are pictured in nearly every office. Some of those plumbing hookups still exist to this day. I am writing this from what used to be a shower! During his time here, Hughes made sure that all of his employees had access to a sink so they could wash their hands multiple times a day. It was his belief that germs came from the outside world but not from him. It has been said that Hughes lacked in personal hygiene care because of this.

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Blue prints of the Hollywood Pantages offices during Hughes’ ownership. Sinks in every office

In addition to the many sinks, several showers are located in the basement storage areas of the theatre. There are stories about tunnels running under Hollywood Blvd between the theatre and the Broadway building where Hughes was rumored to have kept an apartment on the top floor.  Some suggest he would have his female visitors use the tunnels instead of the street and require them to shower before entering his private residence or offices to ensure they were germ free.

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Old shower located in the basement of the theatre currently being used for storage.

The tunnel, if ever there were one, no longer exists. No evidence of a tunnel was found when Hollywood Blvd. was opened up to create the Metro red line in the early 90’s. Pantages employees suggest that the supposed tunnel was destroyed when Hughes sold the theatre in the 1950’s after RKO suffered turmoil and decline during his control.

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The Broadway Building pictured on the right looking East down Hollywood Blvd. The Pantages Theatre is seen in the distance.

To this day we continue to find interesting things left behind by the Hughes era. He had a large impact on the theatre as well as the rest of Hollywood. In 2004 a movie named The Aviator starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Hughes was released about his life. Many scenes for the film were shot right here at the Hollywood Pantages.

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A scene from the 2004 film The Aviator. Pictured are Leonardo DiCaprio (Howard Hughes) and Kate Blanchett (Katharine Hepburn) in the Hollywood Pantages Theatre lobby.

 

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Our Newsie

There is always an interesting collection of people working at the Hollywood Pantages at any given time. For this blog post we would like to introduce you to Halbert Hernandez from our Group Sales office. In 1992 Halbert was selected as an extra in a little Disney film called Newsies. We sat down with him to learn about his experience working on the film.

Question: How did you hear about the audition for the Newsies film and what was the audition process like?

Halbert Hernandez: I had a few friends that had already been cast in the movie as dancers and had heard that there was an open call for more news boys. They said you don’t have to dance which was good because I can’t dance. They just wanted to fill the screen with more news boys. So I went down to Universal the day of filming and met with Kenny Ortega. There were so many of us but they picked us based upon our look. It was really really quick. They didn’t ask us to dance or sing they just wanted a particular look.

Q: What was one of the most difficult things about being a Newsie?

Halbert: It actually wasn’t hard. It was so much fun. I was in my early 20’s and it was exciting to be on the lot filming something. It was neat to be surrounded by the dancers and a young Christian Bale. The days were long but it wasn’t hard because we were having fun and we were young.

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Screenshot from the 1992 film Newsies. Halbert Hernandez in the top left corner.

Q: What was the most fun part of the movie filming?

Halbert: The most fun part was meeting Ann-Margret and working on the scene where her character sings to the news boys in the theatre. I was sitting up in the balcony on I think stage right. If you pause the movie you can see me. It was cool because she was singing to us as well as the boys on the floor but I remember she made eye contact with me. I also loved that scene because we had to run out of the theatre because the police were coming so people were climbing down the balcony and running out of the theatre. I didn’t climb down the balcony. I ran out the back door. It was exciting to meet her to see her. We were all told she had to be called Ann-Margret not Ann not Margret. Don’t talk to her unless she talks to you.

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Screenshot in the balcony from the 1992 film Newsies. Halbert Hernandez pictured on the left.

Q: Did you get to speak with Ann-Margret?

Halbert: She talked to my group in the balcony. She kind of looked up and waved at us and said, “how are you guys doing?” and we said, “we’re doing great!” I also remember one very cool thing was watching her come onto the set in a Rolls Royce driven by her husband. She was wearing a turban on her head and a beautiful coat and she stepped right out of the car and directly into her trailer. Then three hours later she came into the theatre as that character with the red hair and the red dress and I was like oh wow. It was neat to see that transformation.

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Ann-Margret in the 1992 film Newsies

Q: What is your favorite memory from the production?

Halbert: I think just being able to work with my friends. Someone I am still in touch with is Kevin Stea who is an incredible dancer that went on to work with Madonna. We were all pretty close so that’s what made it fun.

Q: How do you feel the stage production compares to the movie?

Halbert: I think the stage production is great. I think it is wonderful. They did a great job of taking the film and adapting it to the stage. There is a lot of energy and dancing just like the movie.

Q: Did it bring back any memories for you?

Halbert: Yes it did. Hearing the music really took me back to the Universal lot. After seeing it at the Pantages I went back and watched the movie. Seeing myself in a few shots I couldn’t believe how young I was.

Q: Do you have any other thoughts about your experience?

Halbert: It was a really great time. I am thankful to have the memories and I am thankful to Kenny Ortega for giving me the opportunity to be a Newsie. It’s nice to see it has taken a life of its own and gone from film to stage and now they are filming the stage production so people can see it in theatres when it’s released.

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Halbert Hernandez

 

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Rooftop Film Club

Picture this. You are on a rooftop in the middle of Hollywood lounging in a comfy chair with snacks in your lap, a drink in your hand and your favorite movie is playing on a big screen. What could be better? We take our movie experiences very seriously here in Hollywood and now the experience is on a whole other level, literally the top level.

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Ariel view of the Rooftop Film Club located on the roof of The Montálban Theatre in Hollywood

The Montálban theatre is getting ready for its second season as a part of the Rooftop Film Club. Taking full advantage of the Montálban rooftop’s beautiful city view, RFC promises to offer some of the most unique and incredible movie-going opportunities for film lovers. You don’t even need to bring your own blanket or camping chair—Rooftop Film Club provides you with your very own comfy lawn chair, as well as blankets on request for the ultimate cozy experience. And instead of listening to the movie over loudspeakers, you’ll get a set of wireless headphones so you never have to miss a word.

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RFC goers enjoy a movie surrounded by the lights of Hollywood

Los Angeles is not the only city partying it up on the rooftops. If you happen to be in London or New York check out their Rooftop Film Clubs as well. For other amazing photos head over to Instagram and look for their hashtag #rooftopfilmclub for more amazing photos.

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Movie intro Rooftop Film Club. Photo credit Rosanna Barrón

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Wireless headphones so you don’t miss a word. Photo credit Rosanna Barrón

To learn more about the Rooftop Film Club experience CLICK HERE

 

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The Montalbán

Hollywood is constantly changing as we mentioned in last weeks post about all of the construction happening in our neighborhood. However, there are still some good old classics in the area that really make Hollywood a special place. Located just around the corner from the Hollywood Pantages is The Montalbán Theatre.

Built in 1926, the theatre’s architect was Myron Hunt, whose work included the Rose Bowl, CalTech, the Ambassador Hotel, and many other Southern California landmarks. Named The Wilkes Brothers Vine Street Theatre in honor of its builders, it was the first legitimate Broadway-style theatre in Hollywood. Its inaugural presentation in 1927 was an acclaimed production of Theodore Dreiser’s “an American Tragedy.”

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The Mirror Theatre now known as The Montalbán Theatre in 1932

The Montalbán and The Hollywood Pantages have more in common than a zip code. In the early 1930’s Howard Hughes acquired the theatre to convert it into the first fully-automated cinema and renamed it the Mirror. The Hollywood Pantages too was owned by Hughes in the early 1950’s.

By 1935 Hughes was out of the movie business and sold the theatre to CBS Radio. Durring this time local station KNX hosted its now famous Lux Radio Theatre. For many years legendary producer/director Cecil B. DeMille was the producer and host.

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An early incarnation of the Montalbán Theatre as the CBS KNX Radio Playhouse

As the years went on the focus turned to television. CBS sold the theatre to Huntington Hartford, heir to the A&P grocery store fortune. He spent $750,000 to remodel and restore the theatre into a legitimate stage venue.

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The Huntington Hartford Theatre now known as the Montalbán in 1963

In 1964 James Doolittle, who at the time was running the Greek Theatre purchased the theatre. Over the next 20 years Doolittle added to the reputation of the theatre with his smart productions.

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Interiors of The Montalbán Theatre.

When the Doolittle era came to an end, UCLA took over, but, after several years, the theatre went dark until Ricardo Montalbán stepped in. He envisioned having a physical presence in Hollywood that would provide inspiration and training for emerging artists in the Hispanic community and thus enable them to mainstream into the performing arts and the broader entertainment industry. The theatre was a perfect home base for implementing that vision, and the Hispanic community, which respected his talent, success and his inclusive politics, mobilized to support the acquisition of the theatre. In 1999 a generous and anonymous donation enabled the Ricardo Montalbán Foundation to buy the building, and the Foundation reopened the theatre in May 2004 as The Montalbán.

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Ricardo Montalbán in The King and I.

Today the Montalbán Theatre is one of the few remaining mid-sized and fully-equipped proscenium theatres in Los Angeles and is known for its excellent sight lines and acoustics. The Theatre and the Foundation are partnered with community performing arts groups such as the Harmony Project, the Lula Washington Dance Company, the Tierra Blanca Arts Center and the UDLA. The Montalbán has also hosted a variety of professional productions including Selena, Culture Clash’s Zorro in Hell, The Who’s Tommy, Jesus Christ Superstar (with the original cast), A Night Without Monty Python (with Eric Idle and other stars), a closed-circuit broadcast of the World Cup, an evening with comedian Billy Connolly, and most recently a two-week run of John Leguizamo’s Ghetto Klown.

For more information about The Montalbán theatre and their events  CLICK HERE.

 Blog Source: http://www.themontalban.com/history-of-our-theater/

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The Neighborhood is Changing

If you have been to the Hollywood Pantages lately to see a show there are a few things you may have noticed about the neighborhood. The first thing that probably comes to mind is what the heck is the deal with all of this construction??? Well the neighborhood is changing my friends and we think it’s gonna be great! Check out some of the projects happening around the theatre.

The Argyle Hotel

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The artist rendering of the Argyle Hotel currently under construction at the intersection of Argyle and Yucca just north of the theatre

Construction is well underway on the Argyle Hotel, a 16-story, 220-room hotel at 1800 N Argyle Ave in Hollywood, not far from the Hollywood Pantages. This is one of three high-rise projects underway or planned at the intersection of Argyle Avenue and Yucca Street.

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Argyle Hotel progress. View from the Hollywood Pantages.

Designed by San Diego’s ACRM Architects, the 184-foot tower will have a swimming pool on the fifth level and parking for 93 cars on four levels, three above grade and one below. The hotel also will have a restaurant, meeting space and banquet facilities.

1755 Argyle

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Artist rendering of 1755 Argyle under construction just north of the theatre on Argyle and Yucca.

Just across the street from the Argyle Hotel construction, work begins on an 18-story tower with 114 “luxury” apartments immediately next to the iconic Capitol Records building and just north of the Hollywood Pantages Theatre.  In addition to the apartments, its project will include a fifth-floor terrace with a dog run, “oversized” TV, and catering kitchen. It will also include underground parking, according to a building permit filed with the city.

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The back wall of the Hollywood Pantages is visible in this early phase photo of construction on 1775 Argyle.

Dream Hotel Hollywood

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Artist rendering of Dream Hotel Hollywood nearing completion near the intersection of Selma and Cahuenga.

Hollywood is booming, and the new Dream Hotel, nearing completion on Selma Ave near Cahuenga, hopes to cash in on its popularity. The 179-room hotel features a two-story lobby and a rooftop complete with a swimming pool and a late-night venue that will have a retractable roof. The property will also have a public alley that pedestrians can use to travel to nightclubs in the area as well as local restaurants near the hotel.

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Artist rendering of the public alley used to access restaurants and nightclubs.

Eastown Phase II

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The early stages of Eastown Phase II.

The first phase of Eastown, completed on the opposite side of Hollywood Boulevard in 2014, includes four low-rise buildings containing 535 apartments and over 70,000 square feet of ground-floor shops and restaurants.

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Artist rendering of Eastown Phase II located at Hollywood and Argyle

The project, which is rising from a 3.18-acre site at 6200 Hollywood Boulevard, will consist of a series of seven-story buildings featuring 507 apartments and approximately 60,000 square feet of ground-level retail and restaurant space.

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Current progress on Eastown Phase II. View from the Hollywood Pantages.

Shake Shack

Shake Shack has confirmed that it’s opening a location in the veritable heart of Hollywood at the new Eastown mixed-use complex. To see where this Shake Shack is going to get situated, head over to the Eastown complex’s own website. Right there in the retailer section (which already includes a Dunkin’ Donuts) you’ll see some 5,000 square feet marked off for a Shake Shack, which goes further to say an arrival could come as soon as this fall.

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Shake Shake progress located in the Eastown Complex.

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Dimming the Lights

They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway. To see these blinking, shining, glowing, neon lights go dim for just a moment you can feel it. Call it a flag half staff, a send off or a heartfelt goodbye for a member of the theatre community. Last night the Hollywood Pantages Theatre dimmed its neon lights for the first time in honor of the late James M. Nederlander.

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The Nasdaq honors James M. Nederlander on its digital billboard in Times Square, NYC 8/3/16

It is a tradition that dates back to the 1950’s beginning with Gertrude Lawrence. Lawrence died after the matinee performance while starring in the Broadway musical The King and I. Under this tradition all 40 Broadway theatres dim their outdoor lights for a minute just before the curtain on show night. Dimming the Broadway lights is typically reserved for those who have been very active in the theater or synonymous with Broadway.

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The Richard Rogers Theatre in NYC dims its lights in honor of James M. Nederlander 8/3/16

The grief of the theatre community is felt for that one dark minute and when the warm lights start shining again, the feeling of hope and joy fills the street. They say there’s magic in the air.

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The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum lights the Olympic Flame in honor of James M. Nederlander 8/3/16

Theatres from London to New York, and from Chicago to Los Angeles dimmed their lights for James M. Nederlander. Below, watch as the Hollywood Pantages dims our lights for the first time ever in honor Jimmy

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We Knew Him as Jimmy

This week, we at the Hollywood Pantages/Nederlander Organization lost our patriarch and chairman. James M. Nederlander passed away Monday evening at the age of 94.

A modern example of the American Dream, Jimmy started sweeping floors at age 7 for his father David T. Nederlander in Detroit, Michigan. Since then he has held every position one could hold while working in the theatre biz from box office to advertising, production and management to company chairman. One of these jobs was to scout out shows in New York for his father. It was on one of these trips in 1964 that Jimmy learned from a friend that RKO was selling its flagship Palace Theatre. In a $1.6 million handshake, Jimmy sealed his fate and the fate of the Nederlander Organization.

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James M. Nederlander poses in front of The Palace Theatre 1981

In the years following the purchase of the Palace Theatre Jimmy developed a healthy rivalry with the competing NYC theatre family, the Shuberts. Even with the constant competition, one of Jimmy’s closest friends was Philip J. Smith, chairman of the board of the Shubert Organization.

Jimmy found much success starting with the musical Annie in 1977 and has had producer, co-producer, or investor credits on successful titles that include Applause, La Cage aux Folles, Me and My Girl, Nine, Noises Off, Peter Pan, Sweet Charity, The Will Rogers Follies, Woman of the Year and many more. Jimmy, however, was not without his failures. As a reminder he kept the posters of his biggest flops in his office bathroom. For a complete list of works visit Jimmy’s IBDB page.

 

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The Alvin Theatre changes its name to Annie in 1977

In 1977, The Nederlander Organization came in as Pacific Theatre’s partner and gave the Hollywood Pantages an overhaul before re-opening it as a legitimate theatre with “Bubbling Brown Sugar” in February 1977.  When The Nederlander Organization heard that the Walt Disney Company was seeking a home for its Los Angeles production of The Lion King, Jimmy locked in a Pantages booking by agreeing to a substantial renovation.  It was time, thought Nederlander, to get the theatre looking more like it did in 1930.  The theatre was restored to its original luster in time for the highly-anticipated L.A. Premiere of Disney’s The Lion King.

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Jimmy Nederlander and Bette Midler

Along with The Hollywood Pantages Theatre, The Nederlander Organization currently owns or operates nine Broadway theaters, the Palace,the Brooks Atkinson, Gershwin, Lunt-Fontanne, Marquis, Minskoff, Nederlander, Neil Simon and Richard Rodgers — two in Detroit, four in Chicago and three in London, one in Oklahoma City, as well as others in San Diego, San Jose, CA, Tucson, Durham, NC, Charleston, SC.

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From Left: Emilio Estefan, James L. Nederlander, Jimmy Nederlander, and Gloria Estefan

In November of 1986 Jimmy was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. His star is located right in front of The Hollywood Pantages Theatre. “Generous,” “loyal” and “trusted” are just a few of the accolades Jimmy’s numerous friends use to describe him—many of whom have enjoyed a life-long personal and business relationship.

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Jimmy’s star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame

In addition to his star Jimmy has been the recipient of many distinguished honors including United Nations Foundation Champion Award (2012), The Broadway League’s Schoenfeld Vision for Arts Education Award (2011), the New York Pop’s Man of the Year (2008), the Tony Award® Special Tony Award for Life Time Achievement (2004), and The Actors’ Fund Medal of Honor (2002).

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Jimmy Nederlander receiving his Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2004.

In 2009 The National High School Musical Theater Award was established and named The Jimmy to celebrate his career-long dedication to supporting young talent. Each year high school students from all over the United States come together to compete in the Jimmy Awards. The participants spend a week in workshops and rehearsals with Broadway professionals in hopes of walking away with college scholarship prizes.

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James M. Nederlander (Jimmy)

Jimmy operated on instinct, often backing shows simply because he liked the people involved. He was well respected, loved, and admired by all who knew him. He is often referred to as Broadway’s last patriarch, but we knew him as Jimmy.

Cabaret
Providence Performing Arts Center

CABARET
Book by Music by
Joe Masteroff John Kander
Based on the play by JOHN VAN DRUTEN and stories by CHRISTOPHER ISHERWOOD
starring
Randy Harrison Andrea Goss
Shannon Cochran Alison Ewing Mark Nelson Ned Noyes Kelsey Beckert Sarah Bishop Margaret Dudasik Hillary Ekwall Lori Eure
Andrew Hubacher
Set Design by Robert Brill
Orchestrations Michael Gibson
Hair & Wig Design Paul Huntley
Technical Supervisor Larry Morley
Associate Managing Director
Steve Dow
Executive Producer Sydney Beers
Lee Aaron Rosen
Aisling Halpin Leeds Hill Joey Khoury Tommy McDowell Evan D. Siegel Dani Spieler Steven Wenslawski
Musical Supervisor/Vocal Arrangements
Patrick Vaccariello
Associate Choreographer & Choreography Recreated by Cynthia Onrubia
Directed by
BT McNicholl
Originally Co-Directed & Choreographed by
Rob Marshall
Originally Directed by
Sam Mendes
Costume Design by William Ivey Long
Dance & Incidental Music David Krane
Casting
Jim Carnahan, C.S.A. Jillian Cimini, C.S.A.
Tour Booking Agency The Booking Group Meredith Blair
Director of Marketing
& Audience Development
Robert Sweibel
General Manager Richards/Climan, Inc.
Lighting Design by Peggy Eisenhauer Mike Baldassari
Music Director Robert Cookman
Production Stage Manager John M. Atherlay
Press & Marketing Direction Type A Marketing
Director of Development Lynne Gugenheim Gregory
Sound Design by
Keith Caggiano
Based on the Original Broadway design by Brian Ronan
*Generously underwritten by Margot Adams, in memory of Mason Adams Roundabout Theatre Company is a member of the Broadway League and League of Resident Theatres. RoundaboutTheatre.org
National Tour Launch: January 26 - 31, 2016
Lyrics by
Fred Ebb
Founding Director Gene Feist
Adams Associate Artistic Director*
Scott Ellis

Emcee.............................................................................................................................. RANDY HARRISON The Kit Kat Girls:
Rosie .......................................

Robert Brill comes back to the “Cabaret”

By Evan Henerson

It’s fair to say that Robert Brill can always get a prime seat at the Kit Kat Club, wherever that shrine of pre war entertainment decadence may materialize. That’s only fair since Brill designed the club. From “Cabaret’s” first incarnation in 1997 at the Henry Miller Theatre through its subsequent move to Studio 54, to its revival 16 years later also at Studio 54 and on all accompanying tours, that particular layout of tables, lamps and chandeliers is from Brill’s vision.

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The Marquee for Cabaret at Studio 54

As recently as June, nearly two decades after he created what has become an iconic design, Brill checked in on Sally Bowles and the gang when the national tour – currently at the Pantages – played a run in San Francisco where Brill has a home.

“When I see the show now, I’m really looking at how the production fits the venue,” Brill said.   “There are parts that are somewhat adjustable that allow it to sit in the venue for it to be exposed in the right way. So the first thing I’m looking at is how the picture is framed and the proportion of it. Then as you sit down, you’re taking in some of the givens of the space, what the sight lines are like, and how shallow or how deeply raked is the house. You’re kind of taking in the venue, but then you’re also looking at how the show is running in terms of props and then any scenic moves.”

Shannon Cochran as Fräulein Schneider, Mark Nelson as Herr Schultz, Alison Ewing (above) as Fräulein Kost and Randy Harrison (background) as the Emcee in the 2016 National Touring production of Roundabout Theatre Company’s CABARET. Photo by Joan Marcus.

“I jotted down a few notes when I saw the show in San Francisco and passed them on,” he continued. “They take the notes and then they move on from there.”

From its origins at London’s Donmar Warehouse, Sam Mendes’s version of “Cabaret” has sought to place its audience in the center of the action. Sally, the Kit Kat dancers and that scabrous Emcee are continually addressing the guests, several of whom are sitting practically in the performers’ laps. The scenic design had to fit that concept.

When they were gearing up to move the Donmar Warehouse production across the pond to New York, Mendes and his co-director/choreographer Rob Marshall located a space – Henry Miller’s Theatre – that was already a functioning nightclub. That venue needed a sizeable revamp to make it suitable for live theater, and the team needed a designer to oversee that transformation.

Brill, who had designed at several major regional theaters and had a couple of Broadway credits, was asked to meet with Mendes and Marshall. Two days later, he was offered the gig and asked to return to New York to check out the venue and to get things rolling.

Re-shaping the Miller’s Theatre – which they renamed the Kit Kat Club – was challenging enough. Having theater audiences and late night club goers sharing the same venue made for some interesting experiences.

The 2016 National Touring cast of Roundabout Theatre Company’s CABARET. Photo by Joan Marcus.

“We were out by 10, and there was already a line outside for people to enter at 10:30 and they would be all over the space on stage, at tables, in front all over the building and backstage until 2 or 4 in the morning,” Brill recalled. “You never knew what you were going to find or discover the next morning.”

Ultimately the production had to move and the conversion of Studio 54, a dance club later owned and operated by the Roundabout Theatre – forced 10 weeks of renovations. From lobbies to bathrooms, from marquee to chandeliers, from painting to demolition. The venue had no stage, so a stage was constructed from the floor up along with terracing for audience seating. The balcony, which had previously been used for events, was demolished.

“What was important to the production was this gradual immersion into the world of the Kt Kat Club from the marquee until you reach the actors on stage,” Brill said.

A mezzanine view of the Cabaret stage at Studio 54

Looking back at his own “audition” for “Cabaret” with Mendes and Marshall, Brill thinks one of the key factors that landed him the job wasn’t so much his Broadway and larger regional theater credits, but a different part of his portfolio. While still a student at UC San Diego, Brill had co-founded the Sledgehammer Theatre, a company that made highly and often guerilla use of venues throughout downtown San Diego.

This was during the 1980s when the real estate climate was friendlier toward this type of experimentation. Sledgehammer staged in former funeral homes, parking garages and abandoned warehouses that had no electricity or bathroom facilities before Sledgehammer took over. A group of fellow UCSD students even built a stage in a canyon adjacent to the library on campus, trucking in sand for the audience to sit on. There was a five and half hour production of “Hamlet” and a staging of Samuel Beckett’s “Endgame” in a small former retail space. Sledgehammer mounted another play in a former auto service garage.

“I showed [Mendes and Marshall] that work last in my portfolio and that was the work that I think really captured their attention,” Brill said. “It was very rough around the edges, showing the hand of the artist, having to be resourceful and work in a scrappier way. Also to be working site specific and because that’s what this piece became, working in an actual venue and transforming the venue. That really got them interested in having me on the team. It was not so much about the more polished work that I had done at that point. It was really about something that would serve this new interpretation of Cabaret.”

Sarah Bishop as Helga, Andrea Goss as Sally Bowles and Alison Ewing as Fritzie in the 2016 National Tour of Roundabout Theatre Company’s CABARET. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Between the first “Cabaret” and its revival, Brill has hardly been idle. He now has nearly a dozen Broadway credits with his designs for Stephen Sondheim’s “Assassins” (also at Studio 54) and the 2009  Broadway revival of “Guys and Dolls” earning him Tony nominations. He has designed multiple operas and touring shows and worked repeatedly with Leonard Foglia and Des McAnuff who has championed Brill’s work since McAnuff was the artistic director at the La Jolla Playhouse which sits on the campus of UCSD. Brill returns this year to UCSD as a member of the School of Theater’s design faculty.

Brill’s upcoming projects include another collaboration with McAnuff, and “It’s a Wonderful Life,” a co-production between Houston Grand Opera and the San Francisco Opera scheduled to open around the holidays.

And speaking of immersive theater, another Brill design figures to occupy a place in Southern California for years to come. The artist designed the scenery for “Disney’s Frozen – Live at the Hyperion,” a short version of the animated film which opened in May and plays several times daily at the Hyperion Theatre at Disney’s California Adventure theme park.

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Set from Frozen now playing at The Hyperion Theatre in Disney California Adventure.

 

If you think transporting audiences to Weimar era Germany is challenging, how about taking them to the wintry world of Arendelle, a world that had previously existed only in a much beloved animated film? Dana Harrel, the production’s executive creative director, was not necessarily looking to do a live replica of the film, but, according to Brill, Harrel stressed the need to make the experience to be, you guessed it, immersive.

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Set from Frozen now playing at The Hyperion Theatre in Disney California Adventure.

“I thought a lot about Cabaret when we were putting in Frozen,” Brill said. “Dana really wanted it to be an experience for the audience to be completely enveloped in the world of this story. One of the first goals was how to extend the visual out into the theater so they feel like they’re immersed both in the visual world and the storytelling. We did that in numerous ways, both scenically and with projections, lighting and also with the staging.”

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Set from Frozen now playing at The Hyperion Theatre in Disney California Adventure.

“Frozen – Live at the Hyperion” opened May 26, and Brill attended several performances in the days immediately following.

“It was amazing to watch, easily 1/4 of the audience was watching the experience through their phones or their iPads,” Brill said. “But it’s been fun to watch that online and check out who is watching the show and who is paying attention to it.”

Evan Henerson has been writing about theater in Los Angeles for more than 20 years. He was the Theater writer and critic for the Los Angeles Daily News for nine years and has written for Playbill Online, Backstage, American Theatre and Stage Directions.You can read his reviews on TheaterMania, CurtainUp and Examiner.com.

Evan Henerson has been writing about theater in Los Angeles for more than 20 years. He was the Theater writer and critic for the Los Angeles Daily News for nine years and has written for Playbill Online, Backstage, American Theatre and Stage Directions.You can read his reviews on TheaterMania, CurtainUp and Examiner.com.