Jujamcyn Org. Celebrates 100th Anniversary of Theatre Now Known As the Walter Kerr.
By: Ellis Nassour
March 22, 2021 – Jujamcyn Theaters celebrates the 100th Anniversary of the historic theatre now known as the Walter Kerr, with a just-released interactive timeline. It’s a definitive history of the building, featuring a century’s worth of history: from the earliest shows, musicals, and revues, through its years as a radio and TV studio, brief spans as an adult film cinema, a children’s theatre, and now one of the most intimate (945 seats) and stunningly-restored houses on Broadway.
Designed by Herbert J. Krapp, and built in 1921, as the Ritz Theatre, it was renamed the Walter Kerr Theatre in 1990 after the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York theater critic (New York Herald-Tribune and New York Times).
Jordan Roth, Jujamcyn Theatres president, said, “It is no coincidence that this 100th anniversary of the Walter Kerr is also the beginning of Spring. The theater’s current show Hadestown affirms that however deep in our personal, communal, societal darkness we may feel, Spring will, indeed, come again. As much as we have all lost in this past year, we can place ourselves in this long legacy and see we are at a turning point, that we are the turning point.
“To mark this milestone,” he continued, “we offer some moments of reminiscence, solace, and elebration by revisiting the first 100 years of the Kerr – and by extension Broadway as a whole – and recommitting to the next 100 years. We join everyone who has found their own personal Spring in these 100 years of the Walter Kerr in looking forward to the Spring that is to come.”
Visit the interactive timeline at www.jujamcyn.com/walterkerrtimeline.
It features an archive of seldom seen nostalgia, including production photos, Playbill covers, sheet music, and press clippings. In addition, those who’ve made the Kerr their home over the last century – actors, directors, designers, writers, house and crew members – have contributed their memories. Contributors include Stephanie J. Block, Crystal Dickinson, Tovah Feldshu, Lewis Finn, John Earl Jelks, Cherry Jones, Kenny Leon, Adriane Lenox, Andrew Lippa, Omar Metwally, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Jeremy Shamos, Jason Tam, and, among numerous others, Frederick Weller.
The Kerr has been home to over 150 Broadway productions including four plays by August Wilson: his Pulitzer Prize winning The Piano Lesson, Two Trains Running, Seven Guitars, and Gem of the Ocean. Seven winners of the Tony for Best Play have played the Kerr: Angels in America: Millennium Approaches; Angels in America: Perestroika; Love! Valour! Compassion!; Proof; Take Me Out; Doubt; and Clybourne Park. In addition, there’ve been two Tony-winning Best Musicals A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder and its current show, Hadestown. In October 2017, Bruce Springsteen made his Broadway debut at the Kerr in a solo show that was extended three-times and holds the theatre’s box office record.
Audiences are invited to join the centennial celebration by sending memories of the Walter Kerr and the Ritz either as short videos (under three minutes), photos, and/or short written statements to email@example.com.
Jujamcyn prides itself on being “a theatrical innovator for championing shows that push the boundaries of Broadway and for creating uniquely welcoming experiences for audiences and artists.” The company maintains five Broadway houses: the Al Hirschfeld, Kerr, St. James, Eugene O’Neill, and August Wilson.
Current Jujamcyn productions include the Tony-winning Best Musicals Hadestown and The Book of Mormon, and the 2020 Tony-nominated Moulin Rouge!
The organization’s proud legacy includes Angels in America (original and revival), Falsettos, Jersey Boys, The Producers, Clybourne Park, Spring Awakening, Fela!; and the Wilson plays.
Krapp built the Ritz for the Shubert Organization. It was erected in a mere 60 days, a record for that time. In 1937, it was leased by the Federal Theatre Project. From 1943 to 1965 It was a broadcast studio for radio. Among the programs, critic, actor, playwright (two plays with George S. Kaufman), New Yorker magazine contributor, and member of the famed Algonquin Round Table Alexander Woollcott broadcast his Broadway commentaries live from the stage. Later, after a stint as a TV studio, it remained dark from 1965 to 1969. In 1971 it was bought and underwent a much-needed renovation. In 1981, following Jujamcyn’s purchase, it underwent its stunning restoration.
Trivia: In John Lahr’s 2014 biography, Tenneesee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh, it’s noted that to honor one of theater’s most prodigous and celebrated playwrights, in the late 80s then Jujamcyn head Rocco Landesman contacted the Williams Estate, overseen by one of the most controlling persons in Williams’ life, Maria St. Just about renaming the Ritz the Tennessee Williams. She would agree if Jujamcyn produced a revival of Williams’ Orpheus Descending. That was not in the cards. “I wouldn’t submit to blackmail,” said Landesman. So, Mr. Kerr received the honor. Naming a theatre in honor of Williams has often been discussed; sadly, to no avail.