The Nederlander Theatre has been known as the National Theatre (1921-1959), the Billy Rose Theatre (1959-1979), and the Trafalgar (1979) before acquiring its present name in 1980. Before refurbishing the theater in the 1990s, the Nederlander Organization left the run-down look while it staged a 12-year run of the rock opera Rent. In 2008, the original Renaissance-style wood and gold interior was restored, and the theater now seats 1,200 for Broadway musicals and dramas.
Backstory and Context
The Nederlander Theatre opened on September 1, 1921 as the National Theatre. Walter C. Jordan commissioned architect William Neil Smith to design the building, and the Shubert Organization managed the venue. Seating 1,200, the National was in the early Renaissance style, with burnished Italian walnut and gold detailing. The opening play, starring Sidney Howard and Clare Eames, was Swords. Other plays to appear on the National Theatre's stage in its first decade included Hamlet, Cyrano de Bergerac, The Cat and the Canary, The Trial of Mary Dugan starring Ann Harding, and Spencer Tracy in Yellow. Houdini also performed at the National. The Shuberts bought the theater from Jordan in 1927.
Despite the Great Depression, the National continued to produce hits throughout the 1930s, including Tallulah Bankhead's performance in Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes, Orson Welles and his Mercury Theatre players in Julius Caesar and The Shoemaker's Holiday, Noël Coward in Tonight at 8:30, and Herman Shumlin's Grand Hotel starring Eugenie Leontovich, Sam Jaffe and Henry Hull. In the 1940s, Ethel Barrymore starred in The Corn Is Green at the National, and The Patriots won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award. Margaret Sullavan and Joseph Cotton starred in Sabrina Fair in 1953, and in 1955 the National's production of Inherit the Wind won Tony Awards for Paul Muni, Ed Begley, and set designer Peter Larkin.
During a U.S. anti-trust investigation, the Shuberts sold the National to Billy Rose in 1959. After refurbishing the building and renaming it the Billy Rose Theatre, the producer/songwriter re-opened on October 18, 1959. Under Rose's management, the theater was home to the Tony Award winning productions of Private Lives and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? In 1978, the theater was bought by the Nederlander Organization and was named the Trafalgar for its first year. Two productions were staged at the Trafalgar: Whose Life Is It Anyway? and Betrayal. In 1980, the venue was renamed after David Tobias Nederlander, the father of James and Joseph Nederlander, who continue to operate the Organization. Lena Horne's one-woman show, Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music (1981) won a special Tony Award.
From 1987-1989, the Nederlander served as a church, but returned to theatrical use. The theater was in need of renovation, but just as the work began in 1996, the producers of rock opera Rent approached the Nederlander in the hopes that the run-down venue might be the perfect place for their show. The facade and interior were redesigned to look like a downtown nightclub. Jonathan Larson, the author and songwriter, died shortly before Rent began its twelve-year run at the Nederlander Theatre, beginning on April 29, 1996 and running until September 7, 2008. After Rent closed, the full renovation began. Since then, the Nederlander Theatre has been home to dramas and musicals including Guys and Dolls, Newsies! The Musical, Dangerous Games, Wind in the Willows, Strange Interlude, and Beethoven's Tenth.
"Inside the Nederlander Theatre." Spotlight on Broadway. Accessed Web, 5/13/17. http://spotlightonbroadway.com/theater/nederlander.
"Nederland Theatre." Internet Broadway Database. Accessed Web, 5/13/17. https://www.ibdb.com/theatre/nederlander-theatre-1286.