Restoration of the Apollo and Lyric

The Lyric and the Apollo theaters were combined to form what is now the Lyric Theatre.

THE APOLLO THEATER was built in 1920 by the Selwyn brothers and was to be the block’s last addition after the Times Square Theater, with which it shared a facade. Designed in the Adamesque style by architects de Rosa and Pereira, the interior was painted tan, rose and blue. The Apollo’s auditorium lay on 43rd Street with a long, narrow hallway leading to a 42nd Street entrance.

The theater opened on November 11, 1920 with Jimme, and was followed by Macbeth starring Lionel Barrymore. The first real successes came to the Apollo in 1923 in the form of W.C. Fields starring in Poppy, and then in 1924 with a Gershwin version of George White’s Scandals. Five more editions of Scandals played at the Apollo, with stars including Ethel Merman, Jimmy Durante, Ray Bolger and Rudy Vallee. In 1927, Ed Wynn starred in Manhattan Mary, and Bert Lahr and Kate Smith starred in Flying High in 1930. Ethel Merman returned in 1933 to star in Take a Chance.

From 1934 to 1938 the theater ran burlesque before turning to foreign films. In 1978, the theater was renovated and reopened with its entrance on 43rd Street. One year later, the opening of On Golden Pond heralded the return of legitimate theater to the stage of the Apollo, which went on to present The Fifth of July in 1978, Bent in 1979, and The Guys in the Truck in 1983. For the next few years, the theater once again showed movies until 1987, when it was renamed the Academy and used for jazz concerts, and as a cabaret and as a venue for popular music concerts.

THE LYRIC THEATRE was built in 1903 by the composer Reginald de Koven, and was designed by architect V. Hugo Koehler with a 42nd Street entrance leading to an auditorium on the 43rd Street side of the T-shaped plot. Devoted to light opera, the 42nd Street facade of the Lyric was decorated with masks, lyres and muses. The auditorium was painted light green and rose, with ivory and gold plaster reliefs decorating the ceiling. The theater’s 43rd Street facade, built of brick and terra-cotta with a copper roof and iron balconies, resembled an Italian Renaissance mansion. An iron and glass canopy covered an entrance that led to the stage and a stairway to the fourth floor rehearsal halls where Lee, Sam and J.J. Shubert, who leased the Lyric from de Koven, developed many of their early shows.

From October 12, 1903, when Richard Mansfield opened the theater in Old Heidelburg, until 1905, when Douglas Fairbanks starred in Fantana, the Shubert brothers worked together in their offices above the Lyric’s lobby. Following Sam Shubert’s tragic death in a train accident in 1905, Lee and J.J. built an empire that would greatly influence the Broadway theater. In the Lyric, they produced an operetta based on Shaw’s Arms and the Man, and Ibsen’s The Lady and the Sea in 1911. Rudolf Friml and Arthur Hammerstein made their Broadway debuts in 1912 with The Firefly, and Friml followed with High Jinks in 1913. In 1914, Fred and Adele Astaire starred in For Goodness Sake, and in 1925 Sam H. Harris presented the Marx Brothers in Coconuts by Irving Berlin and George S. Kaufman. Bobby Clark and Paul McCullough had a long run in their comedy The Ramblers in 1926. Two years later, Flo Ziegfield produced Friml’s The Three Musketeers on the Lyric stage, followed by Cole Porter’s Fifty Million Frenchmen. In 1934, the Lyric followed the trend of the times and became a movie house.

The New 42nd Street signed a 99-year master lease, during May 1992, with the City and State of New York for six theaters known as the Apollo, Liberty, Lyric, Selwyn, Times Square and Victory. (The Empire theater came under The New 42nd Street’s master lease once it was fully restored in April 2000.) A Memorandum of Understanding was signed, in July 1995, between The New 42nd Street and Livent, the Toronto based Broadway producer, for the Apollo and the Lyric Theatres, and a lease was signed in August 1996. Construction on the project to join the two theaters to form an 1,850-seat Broadway musical theater began in August of 1996, and on December 26, 1997, Livent opened the combined theater as The Ford Center for the Performing Arts with the New York premiere of Ragtime. In August 1999, SFX Entertainment Inc. purchased Livent, and became the operator of the Ford Center for the Performing Arts. Subsequently, Clear Channel Entertainment purchased SFX and assumed operation of the theater. In 2005, the venue was completely renovated and renamed the Hilton for the US premiere of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. In 2010, under an agreement with Foxwoods Resort and Live Nation, the theater was renamed the Foxwoods Theatre, which was home to Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.

In 2013, the U.K.’s Ambassador Theatre Group acquired the theater and renamed the venue the Lyric Theatre. Since 2014, the Lyric has been the home of On the Town (October 2014-September 2015), Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games (November 2015-January 2016) and Cirque du Soleil Paramour (May 2016 – April 2017). After a massive redesign, the theater is now home to the North American premiere of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which opened in April 2018.

The Lyric is one of the theaters profiled in “Spotlight on Broadway,” a multimedia project of the City of New York’s Mayor’s Office of Media & Entertainment.