Lee Shubert built the Booth Theatre in partnership with the producer Winthrop Ames. Named for the actor Edwin Booth (1833-1893), brother to the infamous John Wilkes Booth, the venue was actually the second New York theatre to bear this name. The first was built by Booth himself in 1869 on 23rd Street and 6th Avenue. Ames’s father had been devoted to preserving the actor’s legacy, so Winthrop’s decision to name this theatre after Booth honored not only the actor, but connected his own family’s interest with the actor’s rich theatrical history. Ames intended to present the most challenging and prestigious productions possible here.
The American premiere of Arnold Bennet’s The Great Adventure inaugurated the Booth on October 16, 1913. Other productions which graced its stage in its first three decades include Clare Kummer’s A Successful Calamity (1917), Arthur Richman’s romantic comedy Not So Long Ago (1920) starring Eva Le Gallienne and Sidney Blackmer, John Drinkwater’s Bird in Hand (1929), and J. B. Priestley’s Laburnum Grove (1935). In 1936, George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s You Can’t Take It with You opened to huge commercial success and won the Pulitzer Prize.
A vast array of stars visited the theatre in the 1950s and 60s. Shirley Booth was showcased in Come Back, Little Sheba (1950), and Henry Fonda and Anne Bancroft appeared in William Gibson’s Two For the Seesaw (1958). Mike Nichols directed Alan Arkin, Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson in a production of Murray Schisgal’s Luv (1961). Butterflies Are Free (1969) starred Blythe Danner, Eileen Heckart, Keir Dullea, and Paul Michael Glaser.
In the 1970s, the Booth welcomed a number of transfers from Off Broadway. Two shows came from Joseph Papp's Public Theatre: Jason Miller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning That Championship Season (1972) and Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf (1976). In 1978, The Elephant Man transferred to the Booth after an Off Broadway run.
A number of small-scale musicals achieved critical and commercial success at the Booth in the 1980s and 1990s. Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Sunday in the Park with George (1984) won the Pulitzer Prize for drama, one of the few musicals to do so. Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty made their Broadway debut with Once on This Island (1990), and a two-piano revival of Frank Loesser’s operatic The Most Happy Fella (1992) opened to acclaim.
Some modern classics played here in the 1980s and 1990s, including I’m Not Rappaport (1985) starring Judd Hirsch, Robert Morse in Tru (1989), Frank McGuiness’s prison drama Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me (1992), and Having Our Say (1995) with Mary Alice and Gloria Foster as the Delany sisters. A string of one-person shows followed, starting with Barry Humphreys playing his alter-ego Dame Edna Everage in Dame Edna: The Royal Tour (1999), Lily Tomlin in a revival of The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe (2000), and Bea Arthur in Bea Arthur on Broadway (2002). Paul Newman returned to Broadway in a much-praised revival of Thorton Wilder’s classic Our Town (2003). The playhouse has been the home to Faith Healer (2006) with Ralph Fiennes and Cherry Jones, The Year of Magical Thinking (2007) with Vanessa Redgrave and the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prizing-winning musical Next to Normal (2009). The Booth was home to High (2011)with Kathleen Turner and Lincoln Center Theater's acclaimed production of Other Desert Cities(2011).
Most recently the Booth hosted the Tony-winning revival of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (2012) and Bette Midler's long-awaited return to Broadway in I'll Eat You Last.
The Booth was designed by Henry Herts to be one of a pair of playhouses: the Booth and the Shubert Theatres abut each other along Shubert Alley in one seamless unit. Styled with “restrained classicism,” the Booth is the smaller, less extravagant of the two houses. The sgraffito that adorns the exterior of both theaters is the last known surviving example in New York of this once popular decorating technique. Ames had an extensive knowledge of the architecture and technical advances of contemporary European theatres and modeled his theatre and productions after them.
Details on the Booth Theatre's Accessibility
Theatre is not completely wheelchair accessible.
Accessibility by Seating Section
Orchestra: Seating is accessible to all parts of the Orchestra without steps. Wheelchair seating is located in the Orchestra only.
Mezzanine (second level): 2 flights of stairs (up 31 steps). Please note, once on the Mezzanine Level there are approximately 2 steps up/down per row. Entrance to Mezzanine is behind Row H.
Handrails: Available at the end of every stepped seat row in the Mezzanine.
Located in lobby. Accessible at 54".
Wheelchair accessible restroom available.
Located in concessions lobby. Accessible at 36".