250 West 52nd StreetNew York, NY
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Architectural Historian, Columbia University
Jeffrey Eric Jenkins
Originally called the Alvin Theatre, it was built by Alexander H. Pincus in 1927 to showcase the musical comedies of successful Broadway producers Alex Aarons and Vinton Freedley, beginning with Funny Face starring Fred Astaire.
The name of the theater was an acronym of their two first names. Designed by Herbert J. Krapp, it is one of his more elegant theaters, particularly the interior, which boasts an eighteenth-century Adameque style with plaster ornamentation reminiscent of Wedgewood pottery and a mural of a pastoral scene over the proscenium. The exterior’s divided facade is also distinctive; due to additional height requirements needed to move scenery, the right side, which houses the theater, is taller than the left side. In 1977, the building was purchased by the Nederlander Organization. On June 29, 1983, the opening night of American playwright Neil Simon‘s Brighton Beach Memoirs, the theater was renamed in his honor. In 1985, Simon’s sequel, Biloxi Blues, also played at the theater.
Herbert J. Krapp was the most prolific theater designer on Broadway; he was the architect for fifteen of the remaining Broadway theaters. Krapp studied at Cooper Union and started his career at Herts & Tallant, where he met the Shubert brothers.
Krapp became the Shubert brothers’ house architect and designed twelve theaters for them. He also designed six theaters for the Chanin brothers. Krapp was famous for his ability to work with low budgets and small or awkward plots of land. For example, Krapp designed a diagonal floor plan for the Ambassador Theatre to fit it into an awkward space.
He innovated the use of stadium seating, first seen in the Richard Rodgers Theatre. Krapp often used most of his budget on the interiors of his theaters. While he left the exteriors relatively bare, he used elaborate brickwork to add visual interest for a small cost. Examples of this brickwork can be seen on the exteriors of the Broadhurst and the Gerald Schoenfeld Theaters. Krapp's career as a theater designer ended with the bust of the theater boom during the Depression. He transitioned to industrial design and became a building assessor for New York City. He also continued to work with the Shuberts until 1963 as the supervisor of existing venue maintenance and renovations.
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