In 1990, the former Ritz Theatre on West 48th Street was rechristened the Walter Kerr Theatre after the well-known New York theatre critic. In addition to being a longtime reviewer, Kerr also wrote numerous books and plays. In 1978, he received the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. The Walter Kerr Theatre is managed by Jujamcyn Theaters.
A Rich History
In 1921, the Walter Kerr was constructed as the Ritz Theatre by the Shuberts. The Ritz thrived in the 1920s with several significant plays and actors on its stage, including Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife starring Ina Claire, Sutton Vane’s unnerving Outward Bound featuring Alfred Lunt, Leslie Howard, and Margalo Gillmore, and the long-running production of Courage starring Janet Beecher. The triumphant Broken Dishes ended the decade of the ‘20s. The cast included Donald Meek and Bette Davis—before she was famous!
Distinguished productions of the 1930s included the successful play, Mendel, Inc., Mark Reed’s pleasant Petticoat Fever featuring Dennis King and Leo G. Carroll, and a stellar revival of As You Like It. The Federal Theatre Project presented some exhilarating productions during the late 1930s, including Power, which ran for five months, and a luxurious production of Pinocchio.
Between 1943 and 1965, the venue functioned as a radio and television studio for ABC. From 1965 to 1971, the building remained unoccupied. In 1971, it reopened with the musical Soon. This musical, which marked the Broadway debuts of Peter Allen, Richard Gere, and Nell Carter, closed after only three performances.
Over the next two years, the theatre served as a home to numerous productions. Then from 1973 to 1983, the venue remained dark. In 1984, the highly-praised Ian McKellen: Acting Shakespeare opened, followed by the successful comedy Doubles (1985) with John Cullum, Ron Leibman, Austin Pendleton, and Tony Roberts. The musical Chu Chem was the final show to be staged at the Ritz in 1989. The cast consisted of all no-name actors and received negative reviews.
In 1990, the former Ritz Theatre on West 48th Street was rechristened the Walter Kerr Theatre after the well-known New York theatre cAfter the theatre closed, the interior was restored. It reopened in 1990 as the Walter Kerr with August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson. Since then, the playhouse has presented several Tony Award-winning plays, including Angels in America: Millennium Approaches, Angels in America: Perestroika, Love! Valour! Compassion!, Proof, Take Me Out, Doubt, and Clybourne Park.
The Walter Kerr Theatre is one of the smallest theatres on Broadway, with a seating capacity of 975. Herbert J. Krapp designed the theatre in 1921. He designed the interior in Italian Renaissance style, with a great amount of gold leaf and Italian scrollwork. Jujamcyn spent about $1.5 million to restore the Walter Kerr in 1990. The interior’s color scheme is pink, mauve, and gray tinged with black. At that time, paintings and ceiling decorations were restored, and Art Deco-style candleholders, chandeliers, balcony, and ceiling lights were designed to illuminate the theatre without giving off an unpleasant glare. The theatre installed one of the most colorful Broadway marquees, bordering the current show’s title with hundreds of tiny rainbow-colored light bulbs.
The Walter Kerr Theatre is one of the most striking intimate venues on Broadway. The major 1990 renovation and rechristening proved to be a blessing to the Walter Kerr. In the next twenty years, the Walter Kerr was home to four Pulitzer Prize-winning dramas and six Tony Award winners as Best Play, in addition to many career-distinguishing performances by emerging actors of the time.