Imagine standing at the center of a place known everywhere as "The Crossroads of the World." And now imagine a building where art, design and drama come together. You have just entered the New Amsterdam Theater at the very center of New York's Times Square - an Art Nouveau dream that will tell its own story.
On October 26, 1903, long before my parents or even my grandparents were born, the New Amsterdam greeted its first guests. They arrived in horse drawn carriages for the premier of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." But that night, the real star was the building itself, known as the "House Beautiful."
The moment the audience walked inside, like the moment I walked inside, they were embraced by all the grand rooms with scenes and figures of Shakespeare, Wagner, and Greek myths. All were woven in an enchanted forest of carved walls and curved murals. At every turn, newel posts and light fixtures become Shakespearean characters.
Powered by these carefully placed lights, all of the bronze gleamed, all of the gold sparkled, all of the painted glass glittered. And all will put you into the imagination of any play you are about to see.
One June evening in 1913, a brilliant chapter in theater history was about to take place. The legendary producer Flo Ziegfeld and his famous Follies would dominate the stage with musical extravaganzas. The entire floor, larger than a basketball court, could lower 33 feet for his lavish productions.
Some 39 plays, 52 musicals, and 21 revues dazzled the public on its main stage. A second stage, the roof's Aerial Garden, became a sizzling nightclub with rolling stages, glass runways and dancing under the stars. These were the most spectacular two theaters in New York City - the theaters that moved all the theaters to Broadway.
No Plays -- No Musicals -- The Depression Years and War
Times were changing. The Aerial Garden opened its doors to the early days of radio and comedy broadcasting with a live audience, not to be confused with a dead audience. And, the main stage was also converted to a movie palace featuring 3-D projection with an enormous screen that was five to six times the size of screens we see today.
But in 1983, the New Amsterdam closed its doors to the public and went into a deep sleep. You could almost hear Shakespeare's Puck whisper, "So good night unto you all. Give me your hands, if we be friends, and Robin shall restore amends." The beautiful walls and carvings were only a memory and large mushrooms the size of dinner plates grew on the stage's new forest floor.
From a dream, the building became a midsummer nightmare.
It took four years and $36 million for the Walt Disney Company to awaken this Sleeping Beauty. This New York City landmark has come full circle. With Disney's production of the "Lion King," the sun rose again. As the characters of Shakespeare appear at every turn, so do the animals in the "Lion King" make their entrances in the grand tradition of this theater.
Come and you will see animal headdresses take on life forms without masking the faces that give them life. Come and you will step into the past and revisit its many layers of rich history. Come and you will refresh your spirit in a place so magical it takes your breath away. Come, and come away with your own precious memory.
Charlotte S. Davis is pleased to return to Moondance with her second essay. This essay written last Spring follows an essay she wrote one year ago on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They were first written for an annual oratorical contest where Charlotte consecutively won first place. This Memorial Day she also was a guest speaker at Cornell University during the Commissioning Ceremony of her brother and other graduating ROTC cadets. Charlotte entered the eight grade this Fall. She thanks God for all her gifts.
Copyright © 1999 Moondance: Celebrating Creative Women