A couple of weeks ago, I paid a visit to the Belasco Theatre with Danny Burstein, who plays a taxi driver in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Both of us were anxious to survey the $14.5 million renovation begun by the Shubert Organization, which owns the house, after LCT's acclaimed production of Joe Turner's Come and Gone closed in June 2009.
Burstein made his Broadway debut at the Belasco, in Feydeau's A Little Hotel on the Side, so he was especially eager to look at the facelift. He and I were overwhelmed by how meticulously the designer Francisca Russo, who supervised the renovation, and her team had transformed what was always an intimate, history-laden house into a gleaming showplace. The theater's lower boxes have been restored. The Tiffany fixtures have been refurbished or recreated. Murals have been cleaned and restored. A new bar and comfy bathrooms have been added. Burstein and I walked out of the Belasco, built in 1907, a little dazed by the 2010 freshening.
This week, the rest of the cast got its first collective peek at the theater, as they assembled for the first day of the technical rehearsals that will continue at the Belasco until the show plays its first preview, on October 5. Standing on the stage, they all looked a little gobsmacked by the beauty of the place. They're going to have to wait till the dress rehearsal, however, to get the full effect of the Belasco's revitalized splendor. The orchestra seats right now are covered with work tables for designers and technicians and directors. Cables snake throughout the house. Crew members are busy loading in equipment.
As the stage manager, Rolt Smith, called the cast to attention, I asked Michael Yeargan, the show's set designer, if he felt that his designs onstage had to compete with the gleaming renovation in the house. "Not at all," he replied. "This show is in such a different style - 1980s Madrid -- than early-20th-century Tiffany that they don't compete at all." He added: "The technical systems for this show are very 21st-century."
How so? "Well, in the old days when I'd design a show, the projections basically used carousels with slides. The video here is so advanced from that. It's amazing what we're doing with it."
André Bishop, LCT's Artistic Director, and Bernard Gersten, LCT's Executive Producer, were both in attendance as the first tech rehearsal got underway. Bishop welcomed everyone, remarking that "the theater's transformation is incredible, and we're so glad to be the first show here."
Before the nitty-gritty of tech got seriously underway, Brian Stokes Mitchell, a Tony-winning Broadway star who plays Ivan in Women on the Verge, called everyone present up on stage. A large circle was formed. Mitchell announced a few highlights from the theater's history. He invoked David Belasco, the playwright and impresario after whom the place is named, and whose apartment (unrestored) lies on top of the theater, to shower beneficent vibes on the Women on the Verge undertaking. Mitchell roll-called some of the illustrious performers who have played the place: Mary Pickford, Katharine Cornell, Humphrey Bogart, Al Pacino. He summoned their blessings, too.
"We are all part of an extraordinary continuum here," Mitchell said. "That's fortunate."
BRENDAN LEMON is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com