Studio 54, when I realized it was on the list of Broadway theaters, was admittedly the one I was most excited to check off my list. It’s been a working theater as part of the Roundabout Theatre Company since 1998, having started its run by hosting Cabaret for six years. Obviously a lot of the fun is in its glittery history as a nightclub. But the space has a super impressive history.
It opened in 1927 as the Gallo Opera House, then the Gallo Theatre, attempted to put on a production of La boheme that ran three weeks, but ultimately was foreclosed. It changed hands and was renamed a few more times in the late twenties/early thirties, briefly housed an all-black version of The Swing Mikado, and finally was vacant for a three year run starting in 1940 (a longer vacancy than any of its shows had runs, oops).
In 1943, CBS bought the theater and renamed it Studio 52, using it for radio broadcasts. Eventually CBS decided to incorporate TV into the mix (go figure), then for the next thirty years, Studio 52 filmed all sorts of shows, including The Jack Benny Show, What’s My Line?, Beat the Clock, and the iconic Captain Kangaroo.
CBS then moved all of its stuff to the Ed Sullivan Theatre (a.k.a. Studio 50, a.k.a. the home of The Ed Sullivan Show, then The Late Show with David Letterman, and now The Late Show with Stephen Colbert). CBS started shopping out Studio 52 in the mid-seventies, which was a great time for artists to be buying property to share with other artists, and it was transformed into a nightclub in 1976, renamed Studio 54 (it is on 54th Street, after all). The club got shut down within a month of opening due to selling liquor questionably, but got reopened the next day and sold soda instead. For the next two years, anyone who was at all famous in the seventies went to Studio 54. Glitter abounded. Then it was subjected to another raid, this time by the IRS! It closed in 1980, and the owners pled guilty to tax evasion and took jail time.
The owners sold it but were kept on in a consulting capacity, and it had a second run through the eighties, at one point under the name The Ritz, and was a concert venue for all of the hit music trends of the eighties. (My favorite band Duran Duran played there – I did not know that!) There was yet another ownership and subsequent name change, and a brief threat to turn it into a virtual reality gaming venue that never came true. Another bankruptcy later, and another changing of hands, and eventually it fell under the Roundabout Theatre Company’s umbrella, when an unfortunate construction accident caused Cabaret to need a new venue. Which leads us to today, and its re-designation as a Broadway theater. (Let me tell you, this was perhaps the most fun research for a blog post I’ve ever had to conduct – so much drama!)
Today the decor is still awash in the classic Studio 54-esque delights you’d expect: neon signs pointing you to the restrooms, leopard print carpeting, wall sconces with fringed lampshades. The seats are uncomfortable as hell, though, my friend and I both agreed they were probably the worst theater seats we’d been in, and we overhead two separate conversations by two separate groups of fellow theater-goers that this was the case.
Now that I’ve talked about uncomfortable chairs, let’s talk about bathrooms! There are two, one of them is blessedly in the lobby if you’re stuck waiting in line to be let into the performance, the other up on the balcony (follow the neon signs labeled RESTROOMS, not pictured). More spacious than you’d expect.