The Marquis Theatre opened in July 1986 as part of the new Marriott Marquis Hotel on Broadway between Forty-fifth and Forty-sixth streets. Just before its unveiling, John C. Portman Jr., the theatre’s architect and designer, told PLAYBILL: “Our dream was to create a new theatre for the Broadway of today that could handle any type of production, any kind of light and sound equipment, provide maximum comfort for audience and actors and still convey a feeling of intimacy.”
Three working Broadway theatres — the Morosco, Hayes, and Bijou — along with the shells of the old Astor and Gaiety theatres, were demolished to make way for the hotel, which occasioned protests and pickets. In return, Broadwayites got a second walk-through arcade a block north of Shubert Alley, and this splendid new musical-size state-of-the-art theatre that has quickly become a favorite with actors and audiences. It is also one of the few Broadway theatres that actually fronts on Broadway, and in the center of Times Square, to boot.
Leased by the Nederlander Organization, the Marquis boasts many unique features. It is Broadway’s only legitimate theatre built specifically as part of a new hotel; it has an extraordinary ceiling that masks lighting and sound equipment (with no ugly pipes in view of the audience); the orchestra floor is steeply raked, with three separate aisles that offer perfect viewing from all seats; and there’s a ramp for wheelchair patrons and a special seating area for the disabled.
The auditorium can be reached by escalator from the Broadway box office, or by escalators or elevators inside the hotel. The hotel’s enclosed portico is ideal for arriving by car or cab or for catching a cab after the performance, especially in cold and inclement weather. The theatre is on the hotel’s third floor, and two stunning spiral stairways lead to the mezzanine.
The theatre’s lobby has a magnificent marble bar with a brass rail. The wall above the entryway has been decorated with window cards from the many show that have played there. As theatergoers entered the new house, the stage was (and is) directly in front of them, offering a splendid view of the dazzling main curtain of many colors designed by artist Bjorn Wimblad. There are 1,000 seats in the orchestra and 600 in the mezzanine, with no seat farther than 80 feet from the stage.
“The theatre’s interior is very straightforward, very understated and simplified,” Portman said. “There are no chandeliers. The lighting emanates essentially from the walls. The house’s color scheme is rose and different shades of burgundy.” The architect’s designs were executed by the project architect, Bob Jones.
Roger Morgan, the Tony Award-winning lighting designer, was retained as theatre design consultant, and Chris Jaffe of Jaffe Acoustics was the acoustical consultant, assisted by Abe Jacob, one of Broadway’s leading sound designers. “The Marquis,” said Morgan, “rates very high with other musical theatres in terms of backstage area. The first show there — the British musical Me and My Girl — had eight huge sets, which meant we could do anything. There are 75 dressing-room stations and three greenrooms for the actors, musicians, and stagehands. Chris Jaffe and Abe Jacob have been able to integrate the latest technology in acoustical system, and we know that audiences will be happy with the sound in this theatre. My firm added the lighting.”
A concert appearance by Shirley Bassey and George Kirby inaugurated the theatre on July 8, 1986. But the legitimate opening came on August 10, 1986, with the spectacular debut of Me and My Girl. Robert Lindsay recreated his award-winning London performance in the role of Bill Snibson, adding a Tony Award for his effort. Tonys were also bestowed on his costar Mary Ann Plunkett and on Gillian Gregory for her choreography.
Me and My Girl was a new production of a 1937 Noel Gay musical, and it delighted 1986 audiences with its broad humor, music-hall turns, glamorous sets and costumes, and rousing musical score, including the 1930's dance craze “the Lambeth Walk,” which spilled out into the audience and raised the roof. The jubilant import ran for 1,420 performances and got the beautiful new theatre off to a flying start.
Next came a spirited Brazilian song-and-dance revue called Oba Oba ’90. The near-nude dancing by a large cast enlivened the extravaganza.
The scenic resources of the Marquis were tested to their fullest by Shogun: The Musical, which opened in November 1990. Based on the best-selling novel by James Clavell, the musical had book and lyrics by John Driver and music by Paul Chihara. But scenic effects were not enough, and the show played here for only two months.
Tyne Daly, who had won a Tony Award the previous season for her starring role in a revival of the celebrated musical Gypsy, by Jule Styne, Stephen Sondheim, and Arthur Laurents, brought the show back in 1991 at the Marquis, repeating her acclaimed performance as Rose, with Crista Moore again playing the title role.
Laurents was back at the Marquis later that year as librettist and director of the musical Nick & Nora, with a score by Charles Strouse and Richard Maltby Jr. Based on the beloved characters Nick and Nora Charles, created by Dashiell Hammett in the Thin Man series, the musical murder spoof cast Barry Bostwick and Joanna Gleason as the husband/wife sleuths and Faith Prince as a very comical murder victim. Unfortunately, the musical did not recapture the charm of the old MGM Thin Man films and ran for only nine performances.
On April 24, 1992, a new production of Man of La Mancha opened here, starring Raul Julia as Cervantes/Don Quixote and pop singer Sheena Easton as Aldonza/Dulcinea. The revival ran for three months.
The next musical here was The Goodbye Girl, based on Neil Simon’s film of the same name. With a book by Simon and a score by Marvin Hamlisch and David Zippel, the show starred Bernadette Peters and TV comic Martin Short, with Carol Woods, Scott Wise, and Cynthia Onrubia. The critics were unenthusiastic about most aspects of the show, except for Short’s hilarious antics, and the musical managed a six-month run.
A splendid revival of the 1955 musical Damn Yankees, by George Abbott and Douglas Wallop, with a score by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, opened here on March 3, 1994. One of the delights of the opening night was that Abbott (106 years old) attended. The new production, starring Bebe Neuwirth and Victor Garber, with Jarrod Emick, Dennis Kelly, Dick Latessa, Vicki Lewis, Linda Stephens, and Scott Wise, pleased most of the critics, especially the crusty John Simon, who gave it a surprisingly glowing review. Emick won a Tony for his performance. The Faustian baseball musical also garnered the following Tony Award nominations: Best Musical Revival, Leading Musical Actor (Garber), and Best Choreographer (Rob Marshall).
On March 12, 1995, comedian Jerry Lewis made his Broadway debut when he succeeded Garber as Applegate. His excellent tomfoolery and good reviews helped to prolong the show’s run to 533 performances.
On October 25, 1995, the red carpet was rolled out at the Marquis Theatre for the return of Julie Andrews to Broadway in a stage adaptation of her hit 1982 film Victor/Victoria. Before the curtain rose, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani appeared onstage to make a welcoming speech for the star, who was making her first Broadway appearance since Camelot in 1960.
Andrews’s husband, Blake Edwards, had written and directed the film, and he repeated these services for the stage version. Henry Mancini’s songs from the movie were retained, with new tunes added by Frank Wildhorn. The critics were happy to have Andrews back but compared the show unfavorably with the film, and the lyrics by Leslie Bricusse were declared inept. The supporting cast included Tony Roberts, Rachel York, Michael Nouri, and Gregory Jbara.
The show earned a niche in Broadway history for the controversy that erupted when the Tony Awards failed to nominate anything about the production for an award, with the notable exception of Andrews’s performance. She responded with a vehement curtain speech from the Marquis stage following a May 1996 matinee of the show, denouncing the snub, renouncing her nomination, and declaring solidarity with the rest of her cast and company, whom she said had been “egregiously overlooked.” The phrase became a favorite in ensuing years whenever the Tonys ignored a favorite actor or show. Andrews also boycotted the Tony Awards ceremony — where the award for Best Actress in a Musical went to Donna Murphy of The King and I.
During Andrews’s vacation and frequent illnesses, her replacements included Ann Runolfsson and Liza Minnelli. Andrews was eventually succeeded in the role by Raquel Welch. The stormy run ended after 734 performances.
The next musical to arrive was controversial in a very different way. Pop composer Paul Simon made his Broadway debut with The Capeman, the story of Salvador Agron, the Puerto Rican-born real-life killer who made headlines for wearing a cape during his murder of two young men in 1950's New York. Simon said the musical was about the need for “forgiveness,” but families and friends of his victims resented the depiction of Agron as a product of poverty and environment. They picketed the theatre on opening night, January 29, 1998. Much had been expected of this musical, since it had music by Grammy-winner Simon and book and lyrics co-written by Nobel laureate Derek Walcott. Three actors portrayed the murderer at different stages of his life, including Latin pop stars Marc Anthony and Ruben Blades. But critics were not impressed, and the musical played for only 68 performances. The Capeman received no Tony Awards but was nominated for the following: Best Score, Best Orchestrations, and Best Scenic Designer. Simon was bitter about the failure of his first Broadway musical and vowed someday to rewrite the show and bring it back.
A concert performance by 74-year-old French singer Charles Aznavour was next at this theatre and had a pleasant engagement of 24 performances.
Cathy Rigby brought her revival of Peter Pan, in which she played the flying sprite, from November 1998 to January 1999. She reopened it at the Gershwin Theatre in April and it ran until August, totaling 214 performances. This was the popular 1954 musical version of Peter Pan with a score by Jule Styne, Comden and Green, “Moose” Charlap, and Carolyn Leigh, and choreography by Jerome Robbins.
Another musical classic had even greater success at the Marquis starting March 4, 1999, with the revival of Irving Berlin’s beloved Annie Get Your Gun, starring Bernadette Peters as sharpshooter Annie Oakley. The original book by Herbert and Dorothy Fields was revised by Peter Stone to remove material deemed offensive, including the song “I’m An Indian, Too.” Ethel Merman, who immortalized the role in the 1946 original production and in the 1966 revival, proved a tough act to follow. Peters’s singing was excellent, as usual, but some critics felt that she wasn’t “country” enough for the part and that her accent varied. Still, she won a Tony Award as Best Leading Actress in a Musical for her performance. Also nominated was her costar Tom Wopat, who played rival marksman (and love interest) Frank Butler. The show won the Tony as Best Musical Revival. Some critics were disappointed with the directorial concept of staging it as a play-within-a-play being presented by Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, and felt that the production it lacked visual splendor. The Berlin score, however, remained his best. The musical had a 1,045-performance run, with Peters succeeded by Susan Lucci, Cheryl Ladd, and country singer Reba McEntire, the latter of whom received the best reviews of all as Annie Oakley.
Patrick Stewart drew crowds for his weeklong solo performance of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol at holiday time 2001.
Sutton Foster, who had spent more than a decade in supporting, replacement, and understudy roles, got her crack at a starring part when she was chosen to take over the title character in a new musical adaptation of the 1960's film comedy Thoroughly Modern Millie. Her indefatigable spunk helped put the show over the top, ably supported by Marc Kudisch and Harriet Harris in the story of a 1920's flapper with her eye on a star. Around the familiar title song, Jeanine Tesori and Dick Scanlan built a full Broadway score to Richard Morris’s book. The production opened April 18, 2002, and ran 903 performances, winning six Tony Awards including Best Actress (Foster), Best Featured Actress (Harris), and Best Musical.
A wan December 2004 revival of Jerry Herman’s La Cage aux Folles closed just weeks after winning the 2005 Tony Award for Best Revival. Directed by Jerry Zaks and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell, the production is remembered as much for its backstage drama between co-leading man Daniel Davis and the cast as for the action onstage.
Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber returned to Broadway on November 17, 2005, with The Woman in White, “freely adapted from the classic novel by Wilkie Collins,” about a young woman who disappears under mysterious circumstances. Charlotte Jones wrote the book and David Zippel the lyrics. Maria Friedman and Jill Paice played the central roles, but Michael Ball stopped the show as the villainous Count Fosco in a huge fat suit, oiling his way through the comedy waltz “You Can Get Away With Anything” as his pet white rat scurried around his shoulders. One of the most remarkable attributes of this briefly seen musical (109 performances, one of Lloyd Webber’s shortest runs) was William Dudley’s set design — curved white panels on which he projected a variety of three-dimensional landscapes that had the ability to shift perspective as the characters did, making the actors look like characters in a giant video game.
Fans of bubbly 1920's musical comedies got a real treat with the May 2006 arrival of The Drowsy Chaperone, billed as “a musical within a comedy” and narrated by show-tune-lover Man in Chair (played by librettist Bob Martin), whose favorite old show comes to life around him as he plays the cast album and narrates the story to the audience. Sutton Foster returned to the Marquis stage in triumph as about-to-retire diva Janet Van De Graaff, performing one of the great showstoppers of recent years, “Show Off,” in which she demonstrated all the stunts she wouldn’t be doing anymore, including cartwheels, splits, high notes, quick change, ventriloquism, playing the jug, and even spinning plates. Tonys also were won for Best Book (Martin and Don McKellar), Score (Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison), Sets (David Gallo), and Costumes (Gregg Barnes). Over the course of the show’s 674 performances, Mara Davi replaced Foster.
Around the time of The Drowsy Chaperone’s opening, the familiar red-and-white TKTS discount ticket booth located diagonally across Times Square from the Marquis closed so that a more permanent structure could be built. During the 28-month project, TKTS operated out of a street-level space in the same building as the Marquis. Producers put up a blockwide mural of scenes from The Drowsy Chaperone opposite the queue to entice ticket buyers to consider choosing the show upstairs. The Drowsy Chaperone mural replaced a previous mural of photos from classic Broadway shows.
The multiyear success of Hairspray helped inspire an April 2008 musical adaptation of another John Waters film, Cry-Baby, with a libretto by the Hairspray team of Thomas Meehan and Mark O’Donnell, and a score by Adam Schlesinger and David Javerbaum. Though similarly set in the world of Baltimore teens, Cry-Baby did not repeat Hairspray’s success, running just two months.
The 1954 Danny Kaye/Bing Crosby film White Christmas told the story of a pair of army buddies-turned-entertainers who help their old sarge keep his hotel afloat with a Christmas show. Librettists Paul Blake and David Ives raided composer Irving Berlin’s songbook to beef up the film’s score for an acceptable holiday-time stage musical, which opened at the Marquis November 23, 2008. A cast led by Stephen Bogardus, Jeffry Denman, Kerry O’Malley, and Meredith Patterson loaned some melody and sparkle to a city weighed down with economic worries. The show completed a limited run through January 2009 and returned the following November, with a different cast, to spread a little more cheer.
In the meantime, January 2009 saw an interim limited-run booking of the acrobatic Chinese martial arts show Soul of Shaolin, which marked the Communist Chinese government’s debut as a Broadway producer.
It was followed April 30, 2009, by an all-American debut: country star Dolly Parton’s bow as a Broadway composer. As her maiden project, she and librettist Patricia Resnick adapted their hit film 9 to 5, about three put-upon working women who get revenge on their male-chauvinist-pig of a boss. Critics said the story seemed dated and that Parton had merely inserted songs into the story rather than rebuild the tale as a creature of the stage. In any case, 9 to 5 continued for 148 performances before making way for the return of White Christmas.
Director-choreographer Twyla Tharp saluted the music of crooner Frank Sinatra with the dance show Come Fly Away, which opened March 25, 2010. A series of couples flirted, squabbled, uncoupled, and recoupled as a live orchestra played under Ol’ Blue Eyes’s original vocal tracks. The last dance was on September 5, 2010.
Another holiday-themed show made its way to the Marquis in December 2010: Donny & Marie: A Broadway Christmas. The Osmond siblings entertained for 20 performances.
A new musical by Frank Wildhorn, Gregory Boyd and Jack Murphy entitled Wonderland updated Alice's adventures to modern-day New York City. The show's extravagant costumes, by Susan Hilferty, were much commented on, but the show itself was panned and lasted for only 33 performances.
Though some theatergoers have a little trouble wending their way from the street-level box office to the third-floor auditorium, the Marquis Theatre remains one of Broadway’s most sought-after legitimate houses for its size, modern amenities, and central location. The theatre has achieved its goal of providing maximum comfort for audiences and actors while conveying a feeling of intimacy.
New York, New York 10036