New Victory Rules
Even at the Crossroads of the World you know the building is special the minute you see it—those imposing staircases, the 19th-century iron lamps, the ornate brick facade speaking of a time before the flashing chaos of Times Square today; before the neighborhood was all decay and neglect; even all the way back to when it was built as an icon of turn-of-the-century glamour and grandeur when Times Square was new. In fact, there is simply nothing like the New Victory Theater; unique to the theater district and demanding to be experienced to the full.
Not only does it put on a season overflowing with plays, musicals, circuses and entertainments, but the excellence and variety of its shows keeps you coming back to see what’s next. And here’s the best part: somehow, though nominally a “children’s theater” (and the kids love it), it has managed, consistently, to choose material that appeals to even the most sophisticated adults. (Trust me–I’m one of them.)
More, it has a distinctly international flavor. Consider some of this year’s prizes: Puss in Boots , a collaboration directed by Moisés Kaufman (of 33 Variations and Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, on Broadway); Skellig (from the Birmingham Stage Company, based on David Almond‘s novel and his imagination); and Cymbeline (from the Fiasco Theater) whose review by Ben Brantley in the New York Times (January 17, 2011) alone is worth reading out loud.
Unlike most of the theaters in New York, the New Victory has had an ingenious full-time plan since it was saved from the wrecker’s ball by the New 42nd Street Corporation: busy stages all year, outreach to local schools, workshops for stagecraft and theater business for kids and teens, and attitude. You feel it as soon as you encounter the smart young ushers all in black, with little headsets and very big smiles. Downstairs, there’s a bar with edible edibles and a shop with stuff to read, wear, and carry. It’s all about the stage, and all about fun. For more about this season, summer workshops, and the 2011-12 schedule: http://www.newvictory.org/
Although it’s been modernized, the New Victory has a fabled past. Built as the Republic in 1900 by Oscar Hammerstein (grandfather of the lyricist), it was the first playhouse on the block, but evolved into a burlesque house where Gypsy Rose Lee plied her trade and her tassels during the Great Depression. Renamed The Victory during World War II, it screened first-run movies, then slid into squalor as a porn palace while Times Square crumbled around it. But never underestimate the power of development: the theater’s current incarnation is the cornerstone of the New 42nd Street—born in 1990 to a partnership of the city and the state—which has turned grunge into new megaplexes and skyscrapers with the real estate alchemy of 21st-century gold.
During the pause in the before-and-after of this transformation there was Crowbar, a creation of Anne Hamburger and en garde arts, though Hamburger’s Wikipedia bio barely mentions the company she founded, nor the pioneering site-specific work she, and it, did. When the New Victory was empty, waiting like Sleeping Beauty to be revived and polished, Anne Hamburger and en garde arts put on their show—and it was magic!
With only bare bulbs for light and a vacant space for set, there were actors on the stage, in the audience, and standing in the boxes, wearing bits and pieces of period garb, reading their lines and singing as they moved around, bringing to life snapshots of the history of the derelict space – from its original incarnation as the Republic, through its brief re-creation as the Belasco by the showman himself, and on to its role as a burlesque grind house and blue movie haven. The new New Victory was yet to come, but Anne Hamburger made its past an unforgettable prologue.
Then, as the theater was being readied for its current place in the world, en garde arts disappeared forever, while Anne Hamburger surfaced as an Executive vice-President of Disney Creative Entertainment. More recently, she has set up her own production company, which lists a series of interesting entertainments-to-come on its Web site. Note to the New Victory management: you’ve got the space, and Annie’s back in town. How about a revival of Crowbar?