Location: New York, New York
Address: 261 W. 47th St.
Capacity: approx 650
The Samuel J. Friedman was known as the Biltmore Theatre for a majority of its history and is one of six theatres built by the construction mogul Chanin Brothers in the 1920s. The theatre opened on December 7, 1925 and was designed by renowned Broadway architect Herbert J. Krapp with just under 1,000 seats (later reduced to 650). Krapp designed the structure with a single large balcony over the orchestra section and decorated the interior of the theatre in brown and cerise, along with a series of elegant murals, woodwork and fabulous plaster accents. After going through a series of owners over its lifetime, including a brief stint as a television studio for CBS, the venue experienced a devastating fire in 1987. The playhouse remained desolate for several years, but was finally renovated by the Manhattan Theatre Club and reopened in 2003. It wasn't until 2008 that the playhouse changed its name to Samuel J. Friedman in honor of the groundbreaking press agent who brought many well-renowned acts to Broadway stages.
The performance hall held its first production in 1925 called Easy Come, Easy Go, written by Owen Davis. The comedy starred Otto Kruger and Victor Moore as bank robbers and achieved modest success with 180 performances. The playhouse's intimate size made it ideal for small legitimate theatre productions, which would form the backbone of the venue's bookings for the majority of its history.
The playhouse would achieve modest success over its first few decades, hosting a number of successful comedies and revues. However, the Samuel J. Friedman theatre's first true hit would come in 1936 with the comedy Brother Rat, written by George Abbott. The show detailed the everyday life at a Virginia Military Institute and featured such notable names as Eddie Albert, Jose Ferrer, Frank Albertson and Ezra Stone. The show would last 577 performances. The venue would score many more hits over the years such as George S. Kaufman's My Sister Eileen, George Abbot's Kiss and Tell and The Kingfisher.
The theatre's biggest success came in 1968 with the arrival of Hair, which would become one of the most popular musicals of all time. This production was initially an Off-Broadway hit and examined the life of the flower children of the 1960s. The show, which introduced the world to future stars Melba Moore and Diane Keaton, would go on to become the longest-running production at the venue with 1,750 performances over the course of more than four years.
The Samuel J. Friedman Theatre was an eyesore for almost a generation, but the recent renovations have helped renew its reputation as one of the most high-profile legitimate theatres in New York City.
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