Broadway’s Brooks Atkinson Theatre, currently home to the Tony-nominated SIX: The Musical, will be renamed in honor of the late stage and screen star and activist Lena Horne. The renaming will mark the first time a Broadway theatre has been named for a Black woman.
The Nederlander Organization owns the Brooks Atkinson, one of its nine Broadway theatres. Built in 1926, the venue was renamed for the late, longtime New York Times theatre critic Atkinson in 1960.
The upcoming name change follows an agreement between Black Theater United and Broadway's three major landlords, who each agreed to rename at least one of its Broadway houses for a Black artist. The Shubert Organization previously announced that its Cort Theatre would be renamed for James Earl Jones, while Jujamcyn has a venue named for the late, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson.
Nederlander Organization President James L. Nederlander, whose father, James M. Nederlander, produced Horne's Tony-winning Broadway show, said, “We are proud to take this moment to rename one of our theatres in honor of the great civil rights activist, actress, and entertainer Lena Horne…I am so honored to have known Lena. She became a part of our family over the years. It means so much to me that my father was the producer of Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music, and it is my privilege, honor, and duty to memorialize Lena for generations to come.”
Gail Lumet Buckley, Lena’s daughter, and the Horne Family added, “On February 13, 1939, Brooks Atkinson wrote a review of the musical Blackbirds of 1939 for the New York Times. His review was generally unfavorable except for the mention of ‘a radiantly beautiful girl, Lena Horne, who will be a winner once she has proper direction.’ The proper direction came from within Lena herself. She sought an artistic education, and a political education. She sought her own voice, found it, and then fought for the right that was always denied her - the right to tell her own story. In 1981, James M. Nederlander offered her their stage and Lena's one woman show, The Lady and her Music ran for more than a year. 366 performances, in three countries. It was her fullest expression as an artist and storyteller. We're grateful to the Nederlander Organization for rechristening this space to the Lena Horne Theater. We hope artists and audiences alike will tell their own stories here.”
Ms. Horne, the singer and actor who broke down color barriers by becoming one of Hollywood's first African-American female stars, passed away in 2010 at the age of 92.
Ms. Horne had been nominated for a Tony Award for the hit 1957 Harold Arlen musical Jamaica, but when she burst back onto the scene as the star of her own one-woman show, Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music, in 1981, it was as if the public was discovering her anew. Initially, the Nederlander Organization, Michael Frazier, and Fred Walker had booked her for four weeks into the Nederlander Theatre, but critics hailed her talents and the show ultimately ran for 14 months and won a Tony Award. The production was filmed for television broadcast and home video release. A tour began at Tanglewood during the July 4 weekend in 1982, and played 41 cities in the U.S. and Canada. It also played in London for a month in August, and ended its run in Stockholm, Sweden, September 14, 1984. Additionally, the cast album won a Grammy Award.
Ms. Horne's other Broadway credits included Dance With Your Gods, Lew Leslie's Blackbirds of 1939, and Tony & Lena Sing.
The Nederlander Organization will host an event this fall for the renaming ceremony. An official date will be announced in the coming weeks.
About the renaming, six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald stated, “I am overjoyed that the Nederlander Organization is honoring Lena Horne’s powerful legacy by renaming a theatre in her honor. Representation is everything. A Black woman being recognized and memorialized in this way is powerful. Lena Horne was a woman of fierce talent, incredible strength, and profound conviction. With the utmost grace, she broke down barriers. Beyond her indelible work on stage and screen, she was a civil rights activist who continues to inspire many of us today. Newly christened with her name, the Lena Horne Theater will affirm that Black women and girls are seen; we are heard, we BELONG and when we stand in her theatre, we will stand even taller on her mighty shoulders and her enduring legacy. This is truly a historic day.”
“Lena Horne devoted her life to theatre and the entertainment industry for seven decades,” added Tony winner and current Tony nominee LaChanze. “She was a pioneer. A trailblazer. An inspiration to so many of us who stand on her shoulders to this day. She was an outspoken advocate for civil rights, using her platform to speak up for equality. And in the time of the global demand for inclusivity, I am deeply grateful that the Nederlander organization has committed to being a part of this movement by renaming one of their theater’s honoring the life and legacy of Lena Horne.”