- CHARITY BENEFIT
The alumni of The Little Helen Hayes Theatre on West 44th Street, gathered to share stories and celebrate the declaration of today being Helen Hayes Theatre Day. The theatre was filled as host Tony Award winner Harvey Fierstein brought out each guest with flourish.
The Hayes is the smallest of Broadway’s venues with 583 seats. When the theatre was built by producer Winthrop Ames he rebelled against Broadway commercialism and only created 299 seats, to give smaller shows a chance. By 1915 Ames was having financial problems because of his theatre’s small seating capacity. Ames increased the seating capacity to 1000, added a balcony, and made the stage larger. In 1920 the seating capacity was 450 seats.
The Little Theatre Group bought the Little Theatre at 240 West 44th Street, in 1979. Martin Markinson, Donald Tick along with Ashton Springer served as managing director. In 1981 they spent a great deal to restore the theatre. In July 1983, the theatre was officially renamed the Helen Hayes Theatre. The first Helen Hayes Theatre was on West 46th Street, and was torn down in 1982 thanks to the Marriott Marquis Hotel.
Alfred Uhry, Dana Ivey and Jessica Hecht all talked about their days in “The Last Night of Ballyhoo.” Steve Guttenberg talked about “Prelude to a Kiss” but added a shout out to Michael McKean whom he worked with in “Casper the Friendly Ghost Part 2.” Debra Monk, also from “Prelude to a Kiss,” told how Bernard Hughes was standing on the empty stage and when she asked why, he said “Aren’t we lucky. The names may change but the spirits of these theatres will always be here.” Rupert Holmes talked about “Good Night Gracie,” stating that George Burns was also a 100. He wondered, and would like to think that George and Gracie in 1937 went to see the production of “Abie’s Irish Rose.” Tony Roberts welcomed everyone to the National Theatre where old Jews tell a joke. Jay Johnson told of the ghost of Helen Hayes and how this theatre was like a mother with all her children. Roslyn Kind, looking and sounding very much like her sister Barbra Striesand, was in 3 From Brooklyn and wants to come back to perform. Jonathan Hadary was in Gemini and Alison Fraser represented that fabulous musical, “Romance Romance.” From down in the front row Mandy Patinkin, who did his one man show in the Helen Hayes, shouted to developers NO MORE tearing down these theatres. Sara Jones channeled voices from “Bridge and Tunnel.” Kevin Chamberlin made his Broadway debut in “Dirty Blonde.” John Gossett hopped over from “Newsies” and Zanadu had Mary Testa, Kerry Butler, Jackie Hoffman and Douglas Carter Beane sending us off on a high note to the after-party at Sardi’s Restaurant. Food was abundant, as were the drinks, friends reminisced, connections were made and theatre was alive and well and waiting for the next chapter.
The theater is currently home to the musical “Rock of Ages” and officially celebrated its centennial on Monday, March 12th.
Off-Broadway’s not-for-profit Second Stage Theatre is in the process of purchasing the venue as its Broadway home.