I was certainly going to the theatre, and to Broadway, by the 1980s, but I never did see a show in the Mark Hellinger Theatre on 51st Street before it was sold to the Times Square Church. I’ve often walked by the building, wondering about what lay inside its doors, where the original production of My Fair Lady played for six years. But I felt awkward about slipping inside as others gathered for prayer.
This weekend, when the church offered up a live radio play with free admission, I felt it wouldn’t be inappropriate to go inside, especially after I read every exterior sign to see if there was a proscription against pictures. Finding none, and with a good-sized camera around my neck, I entered with the audience, the vast majority of whom, if not all, were presumably entering for the event, not a glimpse of theatrical history. However, I was hardly the only person taking photos pre-show, and ushers smiled at me congenially as I walked around and snapped away. I left the auditorium ten minutes before the performance, and the building five minute before.
There’s no point in debating the wisdom of the theatre’s sale, or the possibly apocryphal stories about the onerous requirements that a prospective buyer would have to meet in order to reclaim the church as a performance venue. All I want to do is share some images of the theatre, which is stunning, and stunningly preserved.