The Roundabout Theater Co. is assuming a long-term lease of the American Place Theater at 111 W. 46th St. for its Off Broadway productions. The deal ensures that the company once again has both a Broadway and an Off Broadway venue in midtown Manhattan.
Formerly the Selwyn, the Roundabout’s new American Airlines Theater at 227 W. 42nd St. opened last month with a revival of the Kaufman & Hart classic “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” starring Nathan Lane and Jean Smart. It seats 750, while the newly acquired American Place will seat approximately 380.
Todd Haimes, Roundabout’s artistic director, announced that the company’s new Off Broadway space will be named the Laura Pels Theater and would be home to productions of classic plays as well as new works by established playwrights. At the Roundabout’s former Times Square home in the Criterion Center, the Off Broadway space was also named after Pels.
Pels is president of the Laura Pels Foundation and the Laura Pels Intl. Foundation, which promote theater productions and organizations in New York City and abroad. A long-standing member of Roundabout’s board of directors, she is also owner of the Theatre de l’Atelier in Paris.
“The American Place is ideal for a couple of reasons,” Haimes said. “The theater itself is extraordinary because of its thrust and the building’s unusually high ceilings. Also, we wanted our Off Broadway theater to be as close as possible physically to the American Airlines Theater, for our subscribers and our staff.” Roundabout’s headquarters are also in midtown, on West 39th Street.
The company’s theater lease begins in November 2002, with an extensive physical overhaul of the space to be finished by spring the following year.
Haimes said he believes the renovation will cost “close to $2 million.” The revamp will include a complete cosmetic overhaul as well as replacement of the existing heating and air-conditioning systems.
The venue includes three theaters, two of which are 74-seaters. “One of those theaters will be used for lobby space,” Haimes said. “The other will continue to be used as a black-box theater.”
Suite includes Gramercy
For the past two seasons, the company has staged its Off Broadway productions at the Gramercy Theater, which is owned by Chase Mishkin, Leonard Soloway and Steven Levy, producers of “Dame Edna: The Royal Tour” and “Waiting in the Wings,” among other shows. Roundabout will continue to lease that East 23rd Street space through 2002. Neil Simon’s “Hotel Suite” is the company’s current offering at the Gramercy.
“We have been searching for a permanent Off Broadway venue since our lease at the Criterion Center was cut short,” Haimes said. “We have been fortunate that the Gramercy Theater has been a perfect home-away-from-home for us during this transition.”
The Roundabout lost its lease because the landlord repossessed the building for redevelopment in the booming Times Square real estate market. The owner of the Criterion, Charles B. Moss Jr., repossessed by invoking an escape clause in the Roundabout contract.
The theater company, which is also repped on Broadway by “Cabaret” at Studio 54, is now looking for another theater this season for its revival of the 1971 Stephen Sondheim musical “Follies,” which is to open nextspring. Not including the “Cabaret” production, the Roundabout’s annual budget is $20 million. In the not-for-profit-theater world, only that of Lincoln Center Theater looms larger.