People once joked that Disney would eventually gobble up all of Times Square. But with the entertainment giant’s latest possible move into the “crossroads of the world”, it’s no laughing matter.
With a presence in five Broadway theaters, including the New Amsterdam on West 42nd Street, which it renovated and where “The Lion King” has played to sold-out performances for two years, Disney is in talks to take over the historic Biltmore Theater, where the musical HAIR once played, Theatermania’s Ward Morehouse III has learned.
A “downsized” version of Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, will move from the Palace Theater to the Lunt-Fontaine Theater in November and Elton’s John’s pop-rock musical AIDA, based on the venerable Verdi opera, is set to open at the Palace next Spring.
“Among other things, Disney would use the Biltmore for a Times Square-area screening room for Disney films,” says one high-placed source close to the negotiations. Neither Disney nor the owners of the Biltmore, Stewart F. Lane and James M. Nederlander, chairman of the mammoth theater and concert venue-owning Nederlander Organization, had any official comment.
Lane and Nederlander bought the 1,000-seat Biltmore at 261 West 47th Street in 1992 after it had been “dark” for several years following a fire and years of neglect. In addition to being theater owners, both men are major Broadway producers and have been looking for a buyer for the theater. Built in 1925, renovations are estimated at $6 million.
“While they were willing to do some things to help us we basically couldn’t get either Actors Equity or the stage hands’ union [Local One of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE)] to make enough concessions to make it economically feasible for us to take out a mortgage to renovate the theater and run it as a legitimate playhouse,” Lane told Theatermania.
The Biltmore’s interior was officially designated a landmark some years ago and sources said that Disney or another buyer or lease-holder would have to preserve some of the grandeur of the inside of the theater as well as re-wire the theater, put in a new light board, and replace antiquated heating and air-conditioning equipment.
First published on Theatermania.com on October 27, 1999.