overview

Opened as a movie palace called the Hollywood Theater in 1929 (converted to legitimate theater in 1934) and renamed the 51st Street Theater in 1940 and the Mark Hellinger Theater in 1949, this venue has staged multiple productions involving major LGBT performers and creators, including Laurence Olivier, Irene Sharaff, Oliver Smith, Cecil Beaton, Mary Martin, Stephen Sondheim, Katherine Hepburn, Harvey Fierstein, and Nathan Lane, among others.

The building was sold in 1989 to the Times Square Church.

Header Photo

Credit: Sarah Sargent/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, 2019.

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History

Hollywood Theater
The Hollywood Theater was built for Warner Brothers in 1929 as a large movie palace for sound movies, as well as vaudeville, but in 1934 it was converted for use as a legitimate theater. In 1940, it was named the 51st Street Theater. Romeo and Juliet (revival, 1940) was performed here with the movie star couple Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. At the end of the year, the theater had the highly unusual circumstance of subsequent appearances by two competing successor companies of Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. The Ballet Russe de Monte-Carlo (1940) under ballet master/artistic director Leonide Massine, with Massine and Frederic Franklin dancing, was followed by Colonel W. de Basil’s Original Ballet Russe (1940-41). Banjo Eyes (1941-42) featured costume design by Irene Sharaff.

Mark Hellinger Theater
In 1949, it was named the Mark Hellinger Theater. Four big hits were presented here with LGBT associations: My Fair Lady (1956-62), with production design by Oliver Smith, and costume design by Cecil Beaton (Best Musical, Scenic Design, and Costume Design Tony Awards); The Sound of Music (1962-63), with scenic design by Oliver Smith, and with actor Mary Martin (opened at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater; Best Musical, Best Actress in a Musical, and Best Scenic Design Tony Awards); A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1964), with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim (opened at the Alvin Theater); and Sugar Babies (1978-82), with scenic and costume design by Raoul Pene Du Bois.

Shows here by LGBT creators also included Bless You All (1950-51), with production design by Oliver Smith, and costume design by Miles White (Best Costume Design Tony Award); Three Wishes for Jamie (1952), Hazel Flagg (1953), The Girl in Pink Tights (1954), and Ankles Away (1955), with costume design by Miles White, the second show winning the Best Costume Design Tony Award; Plain and Fancy (1955-56), with scenic and costume design by Raoul Pene Du Bois; On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1965-66) and Illya Darling (1967-68), with scenic design by Oliver Smith, the former with costume design by Freddy Wittop; Dear World (1969), with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, scenic design by Oliver Smith, and costume design by Freddy Wittop; Coco (1969-70), with scenic and costume design by Cecil Beaton (Best Costume Design Tony Award), choreography by Michael Bennett, and with actors Katherine Hepburn and George Rose; Seesaw (1973) by, directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett (Best Choreography Tony Award), and with co-choreography by Grover Dale, and actor Tommy Tune (Best Featured Actor in a Musical Tony Award); Timbuktu! (1978), with scenic design by Tony Straiges; Platinum (1978) by Bruce Vilanch and Will Holt, with costume design by Bob Mackie; Grind (1985), with costume design by Florence Klotz (Best Costume Design Tony Award); and Legs Diamond (1988-89) by Harvey Fierstein and Charles Suppon, and with music and lyrics by Peter Allen, who also acted in it.

LGBT performers at the Hellinger included Larry Kert in Tickets, Please! (1950; opened at the Coronet Theater); Jack Cassidy in Fade Out/Fade In (1964-65); Marlene Dietrich in concert (1968); Nathan Lane in Merlin (1983); and Cherry Jones in Macbeth (revival, 1988).

The building was sold in 1989 to the Times Square Church.

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