In 1921, the Ambassador Theatre was one of four Broadway theatres constructed as part of the Shubert’s post-World War I rapid expansion. Although it started as a legitimate Broadway theatre, in its time it has also served as a radio studio, movie house and a television studio. However since the 1960s it has been an active Broadway house featuring numerous notable productions.
When the Ambassador Theatre first opened, it housed mainly musical comedies and operettas. The Ambassador’s first show was The Rose Girl in 1921. Sigmund Romberg and Dorothy Donnelly’s Blossom Time followed the same year and became one of the theatre’s most notable productions with 592 performances. The theatre was used mainly as a venue for radio broadcasts and movies from 1936 to 1945.
In 1939, Danny Kaye made his Broadway debut at the Ambassador in The Straw Hat Revue. Kaye went on to become one of America’s most popular performers on stage and in the movies, including teaming up with Bing Crosby in the holiday film classic White Christmas. The theatre was used solely as a movie house from 1945 to 1950, and it was rented out to the DuMont Television Network in 1950 and it also served as a studio for NBC. J.J. Shubert repossessed the theatre in 1956 and renovated it for legitimate theatre.
It reopened with The Loud Red Patrick starring Arthur Kennedy and David Wayne. A notable show in 1966 was James Goldman’s The Lion in Winter starring Rosemary Harris, Robert Preston and Christopher Walken. The play tells the story of the marital and family conflicts between Henry II of England (Preston), his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine (Harris). Harris won a Tony Award for her portrayal of Eleanor.
The biggest hit of the 1960s was You Know I Can’t Hear You When the Water’s Running (1967), starring George Grizzard, Eileen Heckart, Matin Balsam, and Melinda Dillon. In 1977, the Ambassador housed the original production of Godspell. In 1978, Gregory Hines starred in Eubie!, and it was in this show where he discovered Broadway fame. Kristin Chenoweth also became a star in the recent revival of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown!
A Hexagonal House on Broadway: a New York City Landmark
Herbert Krapp designed the interiors of the Ambassador. The ornamentation of the walls, ceiling, boxes, doorways and arches utilize more intricate Adam-style decoration. This was one of Krapp’s favorite design themes. The Shuberts asked Krapp to build the theatre on a lot that was too small, so the auditorium had to be built diagonally. This caused the auditorium to be distinctly hexagonal and the stage to be very wide, resulting in a lack of wing space. Its exterior, however, is not unlike the exteriors of other Broadway venues.
The Ambassador Theatre, which seats just over 1,000 patrons, is currently housing the highly popular, standing-ovation-worthy revival of the musical Chicago. Chicago, which holds the record as the longest running American show on Broadway, is packed full of show-stopping-songs and features sizzling choreography by Bob Fosse.
For more than 90 years, the Ambassador has housed hits, showcased stars and offered newcomers a venue for their big break. It’s unique shape, tasteful décor and rich history make it a true Broadway treasure.