New Haven

The Shubert at 100

A way-off-Broadway theater with a Broadway history.

Courtesy SLAM Collaborative, Inc.

Courtesy SLAM Collaborative, Inc.

The Shubert is getting a facelift for its 100th birthday. The rendering above shows renovations to the exterior; the interior will also be improved, with more space and overhauls of outdated systems. View full image

Katharine Hepburn played here. Neil Simon, Tennessee Williams, and Jerome Robbins debuted shows here. Oklahoma! was launched here. In short, New Haven’s Shubert Theater has hosted the greatest. In its first half century, the Shubert played such a regular supporting role in the theater world that it had a cameo in the classic film about life on Broadway, All About Eve.

In its original incarnation, which began on December 11, 1914, the Shubert Theater on College Street was inextricably linked with Broadway. The major New York theater producers who owned it, the Shubert brothers, used their New Haven outpost to kick off national tours of their recent New York hits. In 1941 the Shuberts sold the venue to Maurice Bailey and Morris Nunes, but the New York connection continued—in the other direction: the Shubert became known as the proving ground for Broadway-bound productions.

By the mid-seventies both the economics of Broadway and the expectations of audiences had changed, and the theater industry had been battered by television and Technicolor movies. On September 27, 1978, the Shubert closed its doors.

That could have been the end of the show, but it turned out to be just an intermission. New Haven civic and community leaders decided that the city needed a major performing arts center and that the Shubert was it. After being shuttered for five years, the theater reopened in 1983. Its first Broadway show was Athol Fugard’s Master Harold… and the Boys—starting its post–New York national tour, just as the Shubert brothers’ plays once did. Coincidentally, the drama had originated at the Yale Repertory Theatre.

Last year, on the Shubert’s 99th birthday, the city transferred its deed of ownership to an Ohio-based theater management organization called CAPA, which has been managing the theater since 2001. Next spring the theater inaugurates the national tour of the musical Matilda. Its biggest 100th birthday gift has already been presented: funding for extensive renovations, including a much-needed facelift for the 1970s-vintage lobby.

The Shubert today matters as much as ever. New Haven is benefiting: CAPA helps book free concerts on the New Haven Green; hosts events presented by Yale Opera, the New Haven Ballet, and the International Festival of Arts and Ideas; and works closely with the nearby Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School. And the theater is popular. Matthew Nemerson ’81MPPM, the city’s economic development administrator, says he can always tell which nights there were shows at the Shubert, because the parking meters downtown have turned a profit.

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