Palace Theatre (New York City)

Palace Theatre

The Palace Theatre, circa 1920
Address 1564 Broadway
New York City, New York
United States
Coordinates 40°45′32″N 73°59′05″W / 40.758842°N 73.984728°W / 40.758842; -73.984728Coordinates: 40°45′32″N 73°59′05″W / 40.758842°N 73.984728°W / 40.758842; -73.984728
Owner Nederlander Organization and Stewart F. Lane
Type Broadway
Capacity 1,743
Production The Illusionists — Turn of the Century
Opened 24 March 1913
Architect Kirchoff & Rose

Palace Theatre is a Broadway theatre located at 1564 Broadway (at West 47th Street) in midtown Manhattan, New York City. From 1913 through about 1929, the Palace attained legendary status among vaudeville performers as the flagship of the KeithAlbee organization, and the most desired booking in the country.

"Supreme Vaudeville"

Designed by Milwaukee architects Kirchoff & Rose, the 1,740-seat theatre was funded by Martin Beck, a vaudeville entrepreneur based in San Francisco, in an attempt to challenge Keith–Albee's east-coast monopoly. Albee in turn demanded that Beck turn over three-quarters ownership to use acts from the Keith circuit. Beck took the deal, and was in charge of the booking.

When the theatre finally opened on March 24, 1913, with headliner Ed Wynn, it was not an instant success and lost money for months.

Soon the Palace became the premiere venue of the Keith–Albee circuit. The theater owner Albee sometimes traded on the performers' desire for this goal by forcing acts to take a pay cut for the privilege.[1] Even so, to "play the Palace" meant that an entertainer had reached the pinnacle of his vaudeville career. Performer Jack Haley wrote:

Only a vaudevillian who has trod its stage can really tell you about it... only a performer can describe the anxieties, the joys, the anticipation, and the exultation of a week's engagement at the Palace. The walk through the iron gate on 47th Street through the courtyard to the stage door, was the cum laude walk to a show business diploma. A feeling of ecstasy came with the knowledge that this was the Palace, the epitome of the more than 15,000 vaudeville theaters in America, and the realization that you have been selected to play it. Of all the thousands upon thousands of vaudeville performers in the business, you are there. This was a dream fulfilled; this was the pinnacle of Variety success.[2]

Vaudeville headliners

Simply to play the Palace assured an enhanced reputation and future bookings, but to play the coveted headline spot, usually billed seventh and next to the closing act, was a special distinction. Through the years of vaudeville's heyday, these headliners included:

Other performers appearing at the Palace included Sarah Bernhardt, Al Jolson, Enrico Caruso, Helen Kane, Eddie Cantor, Frank Fay, Bob Hope, Sophie Tucker, George Jessel, Mae West, Vernon and Irene Castle, Gus Edwards, Eddie Leonard, Burns and Allen, Fred Astaire, Benny Fields, Kate Smith, Bill Robinson, Ethel Merman, Bing Crosby, Three X Sisters, Wheeler and Woolsey, Rudolph Valentino, and Jack Benny.


Publicity shot of RKO Palace marquee, still advertising "vaudeville", c. 1955

With the Great Depression came a rise in the popularity of film and radio, and vaudeville began its decline. The transformation of all of Keith–Albee–Orpheum's vaudeville houses into movie houses through a merger with RCA and the Film Booking Office at the hands of Joseph P. Kennedy in 1929, was a major blow but did allow many to see their favorite radio performers of the day on the Palace stage.

In 1929, the two-a-day Palace shows increased to three. By 1932, the Palace moved to four shows a day and lowered its admission price. In November of that year, it was rebranded the "RKO Palace" and converted to a cinema. Appearing on the closing bill when the venue ended its stage policy were Nick Lucas and Hal Le Roy.[42] There was a brief return to a live revue format in 1936, when Broadway producer Nils Granlund staged a series of variety shows beginning with "Broadway Heat Wave" featuring female orchestra leader Rita Rio. Finally in 1957, the Palace, succumbed to the popularity of television and ceased stage presentations, with its films beginning with James Cagney's Man of a Thousand Faces.

Beginning in 1949 under Sol Schwartz, the refurbished RKO Palace tried to single-handedly revive vaudeville, with a slate of eight acts before a feature film. It attracted acts like Frank Sinatra, Jerry Lewis, Danny Kaye, Lauritz Melchior, Betty Hutton, and Harry Belafonte. Judy Garland staged a record-breaking 19-week comeback at the venue in October 1951. But while the shows were successful, they did not lead to a revival of the format.


The RKO Picture Citizen Kane had its world premiere at the theatre on May 1, 1941 and The Diary of Anne Frank premiered March 18, 1959.[43][44]


Palace Theatre in 2008

In 1965, the Nederlander Organization purchased the Palace from RKO Theatres.[45] On January 29, 1966, the Palace reopened as a playhouse with the original production of the musical Sweet Charity, although for a period of time it showed films and presented concert performances by Bette Midler, Liza Minnelli, Josephine Baker, Eddie Fisher, Shirley MacLaine, Diana Ross, Vikki Carr, and the like between theatrical engagements.

In the late 1980s, a towering hotel was built above the theater, supported by two super-columns located behind the original auditorium structure. Today the theater façade is almost entirely hidden behind a wall of enormous billboards. Only the marquee is visible. The interior was renovated in early 2014 prior to the opening of Holler If Ya Hear Me.[46] In 2015, The Nederlander Organization and Maefield Development announced another $2 billion renovation plan which would include a new lobby and entrance on 47th Street as well as dressing rooms and other patron amenities. The theatre would be raised 29 feet (8.8 m) and the area occupied by the current lobby would be filled by retail space that would extend three additional levels below ground. The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission approved the plan on November 24; however, many preservationists expressed concern over the idea.[47][48][49]

The theatre was the original home to the long-running musicals La Cage aux Folles (1983−1987) and Beauty and the Beast, which opened in 1994 and ran over five years before moving to another theatre. Another notable tenant was Aida, which ran for over four years, from 2000 through 2004, and 1,852 performances and won four Tony Awards. The theatre also housed Legally Blonde: The Musical, a stage adaptation of the 2001 film, which played its final performance on October 19, 2008. A revival of West Side Story opened on March 19, 2009 and closed on January 2, 2011.

More recently, the theatre was home to the musical Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (2011−2012) and to the Broadway revival of Annie, which played November 8, 2012 through January 5, 2014.[50] An American in Paris, a new musical stage adaptation of the 1951 MGM film, opened April 12, 2015 for a an 18-month run.[51] On November 25, 2016 The Illusionists - Turn of the Century opened for a limited engagement through January 1, 2017. [52]


The ghost of acrobat Louis Borsalino is said to haunt the theatre. According to various versions of the story Borsalino "fell to his death in the 1950s" and that "Stagehands say that when the theater is empty, the ghost of Borsalino can be seen swinging from the rafters. He lets out a blood-curdling scream, then re-enacts his nose dive."[53] However, in reality Borsalino, who was a member of the Four Casting Pearls, was only injured when he fell 18 feet during a performance on August 28, 1935, before 800 theatregoers. Borsalino's act was not a trapeze but rather fixed towers in which the acrobats are "cast from one to the other." Comedian Pat Henning started his act after the accident before the curtain was pulled.[54]

Notable productions


  1. 1 2 Slide, Anthony (March 12, 2012). Encyclopedia of Vaudeville. University of Mississippi Press. pp. 385–386. ISBN 978-1617032493. Retrieved November 30, 2015.
  2. Trav S.D. (October 31, 2006). No Applause, Just Throw Money. Faber & Faber. p. 160. ISBN 978-0865479586. Retrieved November 30, 2015. (subscription required (help)).
  3. 1 2 Cullen, Frank; Hackman, Florence; McNeilly, Donald (2004). Vaudeville old & new: an encyclopedia of variety performances in America. 1. New York: Routledge. p. 236. ISBN 978-0415938532. Retrieved November 30, 2015.
  4. James, Edward T.; James, Janet Wilson, eds. (1971). Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press. pp. 116–117. ISBN 0674-627342. Retrieved November 30, 2015.
  5. Hyman, Paula; Moore, Deborah Dash, eds. (1998). Jewish Women in America. 1, A-L. Routledge. p. 585. ISBN 978-0415919364. Retrieved November 30, 2015. (subscription required (help)).
  6. Rogers, Will (October 17, 2005). The Papers of Will Rogers: From the Broadway Stage to the National Stage. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 68. ISBN 978-0806137049. Retrieved November 30, 2015.
  7. Phillips-Matz, Mary Jane (October 23, 1997). Rosa Ponselle: American Diva. Northeastern. pp. 66–67. ISBN 978-1555533175. Retrieved November 30, 2015.
  8. 1 2 Bakish, David (December 1, 1994). Jimmy Durante: His Show Business Career. McFarland & Company. p. 35. ISBN 978-0899509686. Retrieved November 30, 2015.
  9. "Stars of Vaudeville #27: Leon Errol". Travalanche. July 3, 2009. Retrieved November 30, 2015.
  10. Slide 2012, p. 81.
  11. Slide 2012, p. 170.
  12. Trav S.D. 2006, p. 169.
  13. Forbes, Camille F. (March 23, 2010). Introducing Bert Williams: Burnt Cork, Broadway, and the Story of America's First Black Star. Basic Civitas Books. p. 289. ISBN 978-0465018116. Retrieved November 30, 2015.
  14. Lee, Betty (August 28, 1997). Marie Dressler: The Unlikeliest Star. University Press of Kentucky. p. 134. Retrieved November 30, 2015. (subscription required (help)).
  15. Fields, Armond (April 10, 2012). Women Vaudeville Stars: Eighty Biographical Profiles. McFarland Press. pp. 62–63. ISBN 978-0786469161. Retrieved November 30, 2015. (subscription required (help)).
  16. Slide 1994, p. 337.
  17. "Palace Theatre newspaper advertisement — January 24, 1921". Library of Congress. Retrieved November 30, 2015.
  18. Grossman, Barbara Wallace (August 22, 1992). Funny Woman: The Life and Times of Fanny Brice. Indiana University Press. p. 131. ISBN 978-0253207623. Retrieved November 30, 2015.
  19. Slide 2012, p. 392.
  20. Slide 2012, p. 323.
  21. Slide 2012, p. 199.
  22. Wintz, Cary D.; Finkelman, Paul, eds. (October 17, 2004). Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance. Routledge. p. 799. ISBN 978-1579583897. Retrieved November 30, 2015.
  23. Ruhlmann, William (August 2, 2015). Breaking records: 100 Years of Hits. New York: Routledge. p. 48. ISBN 978-1138870239. Retrieved November 30, 2015.
  24. Slide 2012, p. 420.
  25. Cullen, Frank; Hackman, Florence; McNeilly, Donald (October 8, 2006). Vaudeville Old & New: An Encyclopedia of Variety Performances in America. 1. Routledge. p. 1004. ISBN 978-0415938532. Retrieved November 30, 2015.
  27. Laurie, Jr., Joe (1953). Vaudeville From The Honky Tonks To The Palace. p. 493. (subscription required (help)).
  28. "Vaudeville Charts on Past Performance". Zit's Theatrical Newspaper. 30 July 1927.
  29. "Vaudeville Charts on Past Performance". Zit's Theatrical Newspaper. 16 March 1929.
  30. Bogle, Donald (February 8, 2011). Heat Wave: The Life and Career of Ethel Waters. Harper Collins. p. 152. ISBN 978-0061241734. Retrieved November 30, 2015. (subscription required (help)).
  31. Slide, Anthony (1981). The Vaudevillians: A Dictionary of Vaudeville Performers. Arlington House. p. 47. ISBN 978-0870004926. Retrieved November 30, 2015. (subscription required (help)).
  32. Slide, Anthony (November 13, 1998). Eccentrics of Comedy. Scarecrow Press. pp. 51–52. ISBN 978-0810835344. Retrieved November 30, 2015.
  33. "Stars of Vaudeville #23: Clark and McCullough". Travalanche. June 16, 2009. Retrieved November 30, 2015.
  34. Bakish 1994, p. 39.
  35. Folkart, Burt A. (May 20, 1986). "John Bubbles, Tap-Dance Great, Gershwin Performer, Dies at 84". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 30, 2015.
  36. Schelly, William (June 3, 2008). Harry Langdon: His Life and Films. McFarland. p. 125. ISBN 978-0786436910. Retrieved November 30, 2015.
  37. Harbin, Billy J.; Marra, Kimberley Bell; Schanke, Robert A., eds. (March 28, 2007). The Gay and Lesbian Theatrical Legacy: A Biographical Dictionary of Major Figures in American Stage History in the Pre-Stonewall Era. University of Michigan Press. p. 366. ISBN 978-0472068586. Retrieved November 30, 2015.
  38. Slide 2012, p. 21.
  39. Gardner, Chappie (February 22, 1930). "White Press Acclaims Adelaide Hall As Packed House Gives Her Great Ovation". Pittsburgh Courier. p. 16. Retrieved June 12, 2013.
  40. Williams, Iain Cameron (September 15, 2002). Underneath a Harlem Moon: The Harlem to Paris Years of Adelaide Hall. Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 389–396. ISBN 978-0826458933. August 1930: Adelaide headlines with Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson; February, April, July & November 1931: Adelaide appears four times during her 1931/32 world tour with Noble Sissle; June 1933
  41. Sampson, Henry T. (October 30, 2013). Blacks in Blackface: A Sourcebook on Early Black Musical Shows. Scarecrow Press. p. 524. ISBN 978-0810883505. Retrieved November 30, 2015.
  42. Lamparski, Richard (September 28, 1982). Whatever Became Of ...? Eighth Series. New York: Crown Publishers. pp. 182–3. ISBN 978-0517543467.
  43. Cameron, Kate (April 30, 2015). "'Citizen Kane' is superb: 1941 review". Daily News. New York. Retrieved November 30, 2015.
  44. Crowther, Bosley (March 19, 1959). "An Eloquent 'Diary of Anne Frank'; Stevens Is Director of Film at Palace". The New York Times.
  45. Zolotow, Sam (July 9, 1965). "A DETROIT FAMILY BUYS THE PALACE; Nederlanders to Convert It Into Legitimate Theater". The New York Times. p. 16. Retrieved November 30, 2015. (subscription required (help)).
  46. Gioia, Michael (April 23, 2014). "Broadway's Palace Theatre Given $200,000 Makeover for Holler If Ya Hear Me". Playbill. Retrieved November 30, 2015.
  47. Viagas, Robert (November 25, 2015). "Broadway's Palace Theatre Will Be Lifted by Four Floors to Make Room for Retail Space". Playbill. Retrieved November 30, 2015.
  48. Morris, Keiko; Smith, Jennifer (November 24, 2015). "New York City's Palace Theatre to Be Elevated in Hotel Project". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved November 30, 2015.
  49. Bindelglass, Evan (November 25, 2015). "Palace Theater To Be Lifted 29 Feet For Expanded Facilities And Retail". New York Yimby. Retrieved December 2, 2015.
  50. Hetrick, Adam (January 5, 2014). "Broadway Revival of Annie Closes Jan. 5 at the Palace Theatre". Playbill. Retrieved November 30, 2015.
  51. Gans, Andrew (April 11, 2015). "Gershwin Musical An American in Paris Opens at Broadway's Palace". Playbill. Retrieved November 30, 2015.
  53. Fagen, Cynthia R. (October 26, 2008). "Big Apple is Ghost Town, NY". New York Post. Retrieved November 30, 2015.
  54. "Acrobat Plunges to Palace Stage". The New York Times. August 28, 1935. Retrieved November 30, 2015. (subscription required (help)).
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