As much as I love a Broadway show, and regular readers know how much I do love them, I also enjoy taking in some theatre off Broadway whenever I can. (And sometimes, it's just barely off Broadway). I regularly check out the listings at Playbill of upcoming off-Broadway shows, and a lot of them sound very tempting.
Unfortunately, I haven't had much opportunity to sample the fare off Broadway because my time in New York has been limited. But I have been to a couple of plays - The Receptionist and From Up Here - at the Manhattan Theatre Club at City Center, and in May, I saw Good Boys and True at the Second Stage Theatre.
While Good Boys and True didn't get the best reviews, I found it thought-provoking, with some compelling performances. Plus, it gave me a chance to see a new American play just a block away from Times Square in a theatre where I'd never been before. It's safe to say that most people who visit New York don't realize how much great theatre there is all over the city. I know I really didn't realize it.
I guess before I went to New York, I thought of off-Broadway as something that wouldn't really be worth my time or money. I didn't realize how many Broadway show that I've loved started there. For example, I didn't know that one of my favorite recent musicals, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, was at Second Stage before it moved to Broadway.
So I was very interested when I read yesterday that the nonprofit Second Stage is acquiring the Helen Hayes Theatre, currently home to the musical Xanadu, to use it as a Broadway home beginning in 2010. It'll become the fifth Broadway theatre operated by a nonprofit. The Playgoer has an interesting perspective on the purchase, with a lot of good points that I have to admit I hadn't thought about.
According to its Web site, Second Stage was founded in 1979 by director Carole Rothman and actress Robyn Goodman "to give 'second stagings' to contemporary American plays that originally failed to find an audience due to scheduling problems, inappropriate venues or limited performance runs."
An Associated Press story noted that Second Stage currently leases the two theatres it operates off Broadway. "You can't make plans when you are renting,'' Rothman said. "You have to find a way to really sustain an institution over a long period of time."
Rothman tells The New York Times that Second Stage will raise $35 million to purchase and renovate the 597-seat Helen Hayes, which "will be the only theater company on Broadway dedicated exclusively to the development and presentation of contemporary American drama."
Personally, I think this sounds promising. We all know how difficult it is for any type of play to be successful at a time when Broadway caters mostly to tourists who want to see big, splashy musicals with familiar titles. So I'm in favor of anything that provides a home for homegrown drama. And Rothman was equally emphatic to the Associated Press: "We only do plays by contemporary American writers. We don't do classics or go shopping for plays in London."
Many of the stories about the sale have noted that Helen Hayes' name was on a theatre that was demolished to make way for the Marriott Marquis hotel in Times Square, and now the name is in danger again, since the rights will most likely be sold. But Ellen Richard, the executive director of Second Stage, tells Bloomberg News that "Helen will definitely have a presence at the theater.''