110 years ago, in 1903, the stage version of the Wizard of Oz opened on Broadway as the first show for the Majestic Theatre. The Majestic Theatre is not the one on 44th Street which we know today, where Phantom of the Opera is playing. The Majestic Theatre in 1903 was located on Columbus Circle, well north of what we consider today’s theatre district. The Theatre District in the early 1900s extended from approximately 37th Street to 63rd Street. Today the theatre district extends from 41st Street to 52nd Street – with one Broadway theatre located in Lincoln Center at 65th Street. At one time the Theatre District had almost 80 theatres. Today it has 41.
The 1903 production of the Wizard of Oz, billed as a musical extravaganza, had three acts, and a cast with 63 speaking roles.
Despite the success of it’s opening show, the Majestic Theatre was not considered to be a success anytime during its existence, even though theatrical stalwarts such as the Shubert brothers, Florenz Ziegfeld, and Billy Minsky at different times leased the theatre and tried to make it successful. In 1911 the theatre’s name was changed to The Park, because it was opposite one of the main entrances to Central Park. It later was called the Cosmopolitan and then the International. Eventually, William Randolph Hearst took over the theatre (which was located near the headquarters of the Hearst Publishing Company) and converted it to film. The theatre became an NBC television studio in 1949 and was demolished for the New York Convention Center, which in turn was demolished for the current Time-Warner Center, home to an urban shopping concourse (if it was called a mall, New Yorker’s wouldn’t patronize it!!!), high-end apartments, the Mandarin Orient hotel, a Whole Foods supermarket (which is rumored to make more $ per square foot than any Whole Foods in the U.S), and two theatres plus a jazz night club for Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz at Lincoln Center.
In 1911, when the Majestic was renamed, the name “Majestic” was freed up. Almost every city had a theatre called “The Majestic” at that time. There was a Majestic theatre in Brooklyn. Ironically, this theatre opened in 1904 with the same production of “Wizard of Oz” which opened the Majestic Theatre in Manhattan. The theatre was bought in 1942 by a Parisian family who had escaped the Nazis. They turned the theatre into an elegant movie palace. The theatre closed in 1967 and stood abandoned until it was bought and renovated by the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which renamed it the BAM Majestic and later the BAM Harvey Theatre (after BAM’s patron saint Harvey Lichtenstein).
Manhattan was destined not to have a Majestic Theatre from 1911 until 1927, when the Shubert brothers built their new theatre on 44th Street.
The current Majestic Theatre has 1600 seats and is considered to be one of New York’s prime musical houses. Over the years, many musicals which opened at other theatres would be transferred to the Majestic. However, the Majestic premiered such musicals as Rodgers and Hart’s “On Your Toes” and Rodgers and Hart’s “Babes in Arms,” both in 1937, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel” in 1947, and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific” in 1949, and Joshua Logan’s “Fanny” in 1954. It has been the home of Phantom of the Opera since 1988.