A Backstage Tour of the New Amsterdam Theatre #DisneyDreamWorksEvent
After we saw Mary Poppins at the New Amsterdam Theatre on December 3rd, we were treated to a backstage tour with Kymberly Tuttle that following Monday. Our tour began just inside the lobby of the New Amsterdam Theatre as many of snapped pictures of the ornate decorative features that adorned the walls and ceilings.
The New Amsterdam Theatre officially opened its doors to the public on October 26th, 1903; theater construction took place between 1901 and 1903 and cost approximately $48 million to build. It was designed by the architectural team Herts and Tallent, and was inspired by the Art Nouveau style that was popular in Paris at that time.
The first show that was ever put on was Midsummer Night’s Dream; critics said it was the worst performance of any Shakespeare play they had ever seen, but also spoke of the beauty of the theater. New York Times nicknamed the New Amsterdam Theatre “house beautiful”, and it is still called by that nickname even today.
In 1913, the Ziegfeld Follies took over the theater for a very successful run until 1927. To this day, there is a Ziegfeld Wall of Fame in the New Amsterdam Theatre, which has pictures of Follies stars such as Fanny Brice, Will Rogers, and W.C. Fields. More recent actors such as Bob Hope and Fred Astaire also made their debuts at New Amsterdam Theatre.
The success of the theatre ended after the Ziegfeld Follies left and the Great Depression set in. People during that time could not afford to attend live theatre, so the New Amsterdam Theatre converted into a movie house. The beautiful interior pieces were covered by chocolate brown paint and the box seats were ripped out of the walls just to please the audiences. The art and architecture remained hidden behind that chocolate paint from the 1950s to the 1990s, when Disney began its renovation of the theater.
From the 1970s to the 1990s, 42nd St. was not a family friendly area. Surrounding theaters showed XXX films, and a woman would not want to walk alone in the dark (or at all) on this street. The New Amsterdam Theatre, however, never did show a XXX film. The renovation of the New Amsterdam Theatre was a joint effort between Port Authority, Disney, the city of New York, and the State of New York. The renovation took place over 18 months because the theatre was in such a state of disrepair. When the construction team first entered the building, they had to slide under rusty doors while a stampede of cats, rats, pigeons, and other animals flowed through the opening. A tree was growing in the center of the Orchestra Pit and mushrooms the size of dinner plates were growing everywhere. The paintings on the walls were water damaged, half of the plaster work had to be restored, as well as ⅓ of the wood work.
Something good came out of the marble friezes being covered in chocolate paint, however. The paint acted like a preservative, and the marble friezes were a dazzling white underneath it all. Test audiences that were brought into the theatre thought they were brand new; the marble had to be tinted so that it would look more authentic.
While much has been restored and is still original, there are a few things that have been updated. The elevator doors leading up to the Mezzanine area are authentic, but the light fixtures in the lobby are plastic. The Lady with the Crown of Light is a replica, and the Lady of Progress is all original except for the index finger, which was broken off and shattered during the renovation; the current index finger is actually a molding of the worker’s thumb and looks a bit misshapen.
After learning of the history of the New Amsterdam Theater, we were taken backstage where costumes and props from The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and Mary Poppins were stored. Instead of just looking at all of the pieces, we were allowed to photograph them up close and even try on some of the head pieces or hats. Or, in my case, climb into Ariel’s bath tub.
All of the costumes for the actors that we saw backstage were tailored to their exact fit; if the actor or actress loses or gains weight, there is a costume staff that takes in or lets out the costume. For the head pieces in The Lion King, an actor or actress has to sign off that he or she will not change his or her hair style for the length of their stay in the musical.
I loved every minute that we were able to spend backstage and behind the scenes at the New Amsterdam Theatre! If you are interested in experiencing this tour yourself, click here for more information.
Mary Poppins now playing on Broadway! (Click the website below for ticket information.)
FOLLOW #DISNEYDREAMWORKSEVENT ON TWITTER FOR TWEETS FROM ALL 20 BLOGGERS ON THIS TRIP.
*Disney/DreamWorks provided me with an all expenses paid trip to New York City to attend Mary Poppins on Broadway and see behind the scenes at the New Amsterdam Theatre. All thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.*