The Lena Horne Theatre was built by the Chanin brothers in 1926 as the Mansfield Theatre in honor of the famous classical actor Richard Mansfield, who died in 1907. It is presently one of The Nederlander Organization’s nine Broadway theatres. At one point it was used as a television studio for CBS, but over the years it has housed many dramas, comedies, and musicals. It was known as the Brooks Atkinson Theatre until November of 2022.
Brimming With History
On February 15, 1926, a melodrama called The Night Duel by Daniel Rubin and Edgar MacGregor (starring Marjorie Rambeau and Felix Krembs), opened the Mansfield. Unfortunately, the show ran only 17 performances. Three more flops followed, one being The Masque of Venice, starring Arnold Daly, Osgood Perkins, Selena Royle, and Antoinette Perry (the Tony Awards were named in Perry’s honor).
On April 26, 1928, Rodgers and Hart’s musical, Present Arms, saved the day. It produced one Rodgers and Hart classic song, “You Took Advantage of Me,” performed in the show by Busby Berkeley, who also created the dances for the musical. The next biggest hit to play at the Mansfield was a musical called Hello, Daddy, which was created by Herbert and Dorothy Fields. Their father, Lew Fields, appropriately produced it and also starred in the show.
Mark Connelly’s The Green Pastures opened on February 26, 1930, and it involved a huge all-black cast. Many Broadway producers turned down the script, saying that the show would never succeed on Broadway because it was about Bible incidents as viewed by southern blacks. The show ended up winning the Pulitzer Prize.
Antoinette Perry starred in another show, The Ladder, at the Mansfield. It was a long-running show about reincarnation. Although The Ladder was not well received by the critics, it was backed by Edgar B. Davis, a millionaire, who believed in the drama’s message. He helped keep the show running for 789 performances and frequently allowed patrons in for free. Davis lost half a million dollars on the production.
After 1933, the theatre became mainly vacant until 1945, when Michael Myerberg bought it and rented it out to CBS for television productions. It was known as Studio 59. The venue hosted the show I’ve Got a Secret, a panel game show that was a spin-off of What’s My Line?, which was also produced in that space.
In 1960, the Mansfield was renamed in honor of the famous New York Times drama critic, Brooks Atkinson, and it once again began housing legitimate productions. When Myerberg died in 1974, the theatre was leased to the Nederlanders. The interior of the theatre was renovated in 2000.
An Intimate House, but Bring On the Rock!
The Brooks Atkinson Theatre was designed by architect Herbert J. Krapp and built in 1926 by the Chanin brothers. It had only one balcony and an auditorium that was wide instead of deep. The appealing color scheme was gold, light tan, and old rose.
The Brooks Atkinson was redecorated in 2000. During the renovation, the original chandelier that illuminated the theatre 40 years ago was restored, and the house was reconfigured and can now accommodate 1,069 patrons. Despite the fact that the theatre has housed rock musicals such as Rock of Ages, the space is also perfectly appropriate for dramas and comedies because of its intimate ambience.
Tony Award winning shows and Unexpected Hits
With 1,069 seats, the Brooks Atkinson Theatre is a highly admired and intimate house. It has housed numerous notable productions starring performers such as Glenn Close, Matthew Broderick, Richard Dreyfuss, Nathan Lane, and Marisa Tomei. It has been the setting for numerous unexpected hits and Tony Award winners.