Location: New York, New York
Address: 240 W. 44th St.
Capacity: approx 590
The Helen Hayes Theatre began its life as the appropriately named Little Theatre, and was built by Broadway producer Winthrop Ames in 1912 and initially only held 299 people. In the 1920s, the venue was redesigned by renowned architect Herbert J. Krapp to expand seating (which currently seats 597 patrons) and revamp the building's acoustics. The building was inspired by Ames' New England roots and featured a Colonial-style lobby, a charming fireplace and an auditorium without boxes or balconies to provide attendees with a clear view of the stage. The performance hall has gone through a number of names throughout the years and even became an ABC television studio during the '40s and '50s. However, the building's current name, established in 1983, is a tribute to Helen Hayes, who is considered by many to be the "first lady" of Broadway.
The playhouse opened its doors in March of 1912 and presented an original play called The Pigeon, written by John Galsworthy. The show only lasted briefly, but it fulfilled Ames' dream of offering plays that reflect "the clever, unusual drama that had a chance of becoming a library classic." The playhouse has been used mostly as an environment that's fitting for small plays and musicals, and is notable for giving off-Broadway and independent acting companies a second chance after they may have been rejected from the larger theatres.
One of the venue's early successes took place in 1920 with the premiere of The First Year, starring Frank Craven (who also wrote the piece) and Roberta Arnold. The comedic play became an instant sensation and ran for an impressive 760 performances. After going through a series of ownership changes, the theatre returned to the spotlight in 1963 with a slew of plays and musicals. The longest-running show in the venue's history was Albert Innaurato's comedy Gemini. The production moved to the building in 1977 and starred Danny Aiello, Anne DeSalvo and Reed Birney. It turned out to be a massive success for the playhouse, as the original play ran for 1,788 performances in that location.
The Helen Hayes Theatre has gone through a number of changes throughout its lifetime, but it has followed Winthrop Ames' original intent to bring new and exciting performances to audiences that may not have had a chance in larger venues.
Helen Hayes Theatre Ticket Information:
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