The Stephen Sondheim Theatre originally opened as Henry Miller’s Theatre. It was named after the London-born actor-producer who constructed it. Miller had originated the leading role of John Worthing in the 1895 U.S. opening of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. The actor-producer was fascinated by theatre design. He believed that the perfect theatre was not too large or small, and that its stage would be just wide enough to embrace the action while engaging a wide range of the audience’s vision so it felt as if they were a part of it all. Following his death in 1926, the theatre was taken over by his son Gilbert. The Roundabout Theatre Company took over the venue in 2007, and the theatre was rechristened the Stephen Sondheim in 2010.
A Legitimate Venue and a Disco Club
On April 1, 1918, Henry Miller’s Theatre opened with The Fountain of Youth. In 1926, the theatre had its first big success with Noel Coward’s The Vortex. The theatre flourished from the 1930s until the late 1960s, with performances by Helen Hayes, Lillian Gish, Ruth Chatterton, Leslie Howard, and Douglas Fairbanks. In 1968, it showed movies and was known as the Park-Miller.
It was transformed into the nightclub Xenon in 1978. On August 31, 1985, the building opened as SHOUT, a nightclub playing music from the 1950s and 1960s. SHOUT stayed in business for six years, closing in 1991. In 1996, the venue reopened as Club Expo. It then returned to theatrical use in 1998 as the Kit Kat Club. At this time, it was housing the revival of the musical Cabaret, which inspired its new name. Cabaret ran for nine months, but a construction accident at a neighboring building forced the show to close. It re-opened for a short time and then transferred to Studio 54 for a five-year run.
In 2001, when Urinetown opened, the building was renamed the Henry Miller. In 2004, the theatre shut down and the interior was demolished and reconstructed becoming the 57-story Bank of America tower. In September 2009, the new underground theatre reopened with the Roundabout Theatre Company’s production of a revival of the Broadway musical Bye Bye Birdie.
On March 22, 2010, the theatre’s eightieth birthday, Henry Miller’s Theatre was renamed the Stephen Sondheim after the American composer and lyricist. The first production to open under the theatre new name was The Pee-Wee Herman Show, which premiered on October 26, 2010 and ran until January 2, 2011. On April 7, 2011, Sutton Foster and Joel Grey starred in a revival of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes.
Architects Paul R. Allen and Ingalls & Hoffman designed the Stephen Sondheim Theatre in the Neo-classical style. The original theatre had 950 seats. Henry Miller chose to include a balcony despite the fact that they were going out of style. In 2004 when the theatre was demolished and rebuilt as a bank, the new theatre had to be built underground, making it only one of two underground Broadway theatres. Its neo-Georgian exterior still remains and it now features a 1,055-seat theatre. The Stephen Sondheim was designed to minimize its use of energy and involvement in environmental pollution. It is a green theatre.
A True Survivor
Many significant American dramas and comedies have premiered here, and a wealth of talented professionals have launched their careers at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre. This Broadway theatre has survived the Depression, changing theatrical trends, and even a long stretch of time as a disco club. Due to the Roundabout Theatre Company, the Stephen Sondheim thrives today as a feasible, live performance space for theatregoers to enjoy.