The Shubert Theatre had its genesis in the New Theatre, an “art” playhouse located on Central Park West that was devoted to serious repertory drama. Although the project was a critical and commercial flop, the New Theatre Group, which included Lee Shubert, leased a plot of land between 44th and 45th street to construct a new venue. The plan was abandoned, but Lee Shubert and Winthrop Ames, a former New Theatre partner, acquired a lease for the site, and built two adjoining playhouses there. Lee and J.J. operated the larger of the two auditoriums, which they named the Sam S. Shubert Memorial Theatre to commemorate their brother, who had died in May 1905. Ames managed the smaller Booth Theatre.
The prestigious British actor Johnston Forbes-Robertson opened the theatre with his repertory company, presenting productions in 1913 of Hamlet, The Merchant of Venice, Othello and others.
In its early years, the Shubert played home to both plays and musicals. Some of the more significant plays to appear were The Copperhead (1918) starring Lionel Barrymore, The Blue Flame (1920), Dodsworth (1934), Love on the Dole (1936), The Philadelphia Story (1939) featuring Katharine Hepburn and Shirley Booth, Othello (1943), Mae West’s Catherine Was Great (1944), Anne of the Thousand Days (1948) with Rex Harrison, Checkhov’s Ivanov (1966) starring John Gielgud and Vivien Leigh, and The Constant Wife (1975) featuring Ingrid Bergman.
As for musicals, a truly impresssive roster has called the Shubert home. Five Sigmund Romberg shows premiered here, including Maytime (1917), one of the Shubert brothers’ most successful operettas, as well as The Magic Melody (1919), Marjorie (1924), My Princess (1927), and My Romance (1948). The playhouse showcased many revues like the popular Greenwich Village Follies (1921, 1922, 1924, and 1926), and Artists and Models (1923).
Five Rodgers and Hart musicals debuted here as well, including Babes in Arms (1937) which introduced the standards “My Funny Valentine” and “The Lady is a Tramp”, and Pal Joey (1941), which featured Gene Kelly and the premiere of “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered.” Rodgers returned with his new collaborator, Hammerstein, to present Pipe Dream (1955). Cole Porter had two hits at the Shubert: Kiss Me Kate (1948), and Can-Can (1952) starring Gwen Verdon, while Comden and Green collaborated with Jule Styne to create Judy Holliday’s star vehicle Bells Are Ringing (1956).
The 1960s and 1970s offered quintessential musicals of this era. Barbra Streisand marked her Broadway debut in I Can Get It for You Wholesale (1962). Anthony Newley had two successes: Stop the World, I Want to Get Off (1962) and The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd (1965). Neil Simon and Burt Bacharach’s Promises, Promises opened in 1968, and Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music (1973) gave the world “Send in the Clowns.” Then, on October 19, 1975, A Chorus Line, the Off-Broadway hit from the Public Theatre, opened uptown at the Shubert. This “singular sensation” would remain for a record-breaking fifteen years (6,137 performances), before closing on April 28, 1990.
Following A Chorus Line's legendary run were the “new” Gershwin musical Crazy for You (1992), and a revival of Kander and Ebb’s Chicago (1996). After Chicago transferred to the Ambassador, Bernadette Peters starred in a revival of the backstage classic Gypsy (2003). More recently, the Shubert was the home to the Tony award-winning Best Musical Spamalot (2005), a revival of Blithe Spirit (2009) with Angela Lansbury, and the Tony Award-winning Best Musical Memphis (2009).
The Shubert and Booth theatres utilized an unusual design scheme, sharing an architecturally unified exterior (in the style of the “Venetian Renaissance”), but completely distinct interiors. The sgraffito (plaster frescoes created by etching plaster while it is still wet) that decorates the exterior was architect Henry B. Herts’s unusual decorative solution to a statute in the city’s building code dictating that no part of the edifice project beyond the building line. Another distinctive feature is the private roadway connecting 44th and 45th Streets, which runs between the two new theatres and the rear of the adjacent building--formerly the Astor Hotel, now the Minskoff. This thoroughfare, which came to be called Shubert Alley, allowed each theatre to occupy a corner lot. The Shubert's elegant interior is marked by elaborate plasterwork, and a series of theatrically-themed painted panels that adorn the boxes, the area above the proscenium arch, and the ceiling. Lee chose to build an office/apartment above the theatre, which is now the location of the Shubert Organization’s executive offices.
Details on the Shubert Theatre's Accessibility
Theatre is not completely wheelchair accessible. There are no steps into the theatre from the sidewalk. Please be advised that where there are steps either into or within the theatre, we are unable to provide assistance.
Accessibility by Seating Section
Orchestra Location: Seating is accessible to all parts of the Orchestra without steps. There are no steps to the designated wheelchair seating location.
Mezzanine Location: Located on the 2nd level, up 2 flights of stairs (34 steps). Please Note: On the Mezzanine or Balcony level, there are approximately 2 steps per row. Entrance to Mezzanine is behind row K.
Balcony Location: Located on the 3rd level, up 3 flights of stairs (56 steps) from the Orchestra. Please Note: On the Mezzanine or Balcony level, there are approximately 2 steps per row. Entrance to Balcony is behind row J.
Handrails: Available at the end of every stepped seat row in the Mezzanine and Balcony.
Located in the ticket lobby. Accessible at 54".
Not wheelchair accessible. Located down 1 flight of stairs (20 steps). Restrooms are also located on the Mezzanine & Balcony Levels. Wheelchair accessible restrooms are located at Sardi's Restaurant (4th floor, accessible via elevator) directly across the street.
Located in the ticket lobby.