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A Floating Lightbulb

The spirits of Richmond Crinkley and Joseph Papp must have shared a heavenly laugh last week over the announcement that, following the disappointing run of “Racing Demon,” the Vivian Beaumont Theater would shutter until next fall for a renovation. Both Papp, who died in 1991, and Crinkley, who died in 1989, had nasty things to say about Lincoln Center’s most beautiful yet treacherous theater.

In the mid-’70s, Papp ran the Beaumont (along with the smaller Mitzi E. Newhouse) as an uptown outpost of the New York Shakespeare Festival, mounting any number of memorable productions there before returning full-time to the Public. When Crinkley took over in 1980, he produced several unmemorable shows – including Woody Allen’s “The Floating Lightbulb” – before closing the Beaumont and demanding millions to renovate the theater. Soon he was out, and in 1985 half the present regime – executive producer Bernard Gersten – took over, first with Gregory Mosher as artistic director and, since 1991, with Andre Bishop in that role.

When I reported Gersten’s plan to spend $5 million on a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system for the Beaumont and improvements to the lighting system (Variety, April 3-9,1995), it was noted as part of a three-year, $12 million capital campaign that also included a $5 million endowment and a $2 million reserve fund.

But the acclaimed “Racing Demon” failed to ignite, struggling through its slated run through New Year’s Eve. Hence, the renovation begins, and once again, the Beaumont is dark. The $5 million won’t be used to resolve the problems that once inspired the wrath of directors, designers and the weary actors who have trod that football-field size stage. In truth, the designers themselves have used their own cunning, creativity and ingenuity to work things out.

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