Palace Reopening 1200x450
Palace Reopening 1200x450

The Nederlander Organization on Welcoming Audiences Back to the Palace Theatre

The legendary Palace Theatre on Broadway has officially reopened for business! The landmark building shut down operations in 2018 to undergo significant renovations, including being lifted 30 feet in the air to make way for commercial space below.

Stewart F. Lane and James L. Nederlander in the Palace Theatre. Photo by Rebecca J Michelson for Broadway Direct.

The theatre opened in 1913 and was the preeminent vaudeville venue in the United States. In 1964, theater mogul James M. Nederlander bought the theatre and transformed it into a Broadway house, launching with Sweet Charity starring Gwen Verdon. Over the decades, it has hosted a notable array of productions, including La Cage aux Folles, The Will Rogers Follies, and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and Aida. It has also seen performances by luminaries such as Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli, Bette Midler, and Diana Ross. In celebration of its reopening, Frank DiLella, an entertainment journalist with Spectrum News NY1, spoke with Palace Theatre co-owners James L. Nederlander, producer Stewart F. Lane, and Nick Scandalios, chief operating officer of the Nederlander Organization, about their efforts to breathe new life into this iconic venue.

Congratulations on the Palace! It’s stunning. Truly one of the crown jewels of Broadway. What’s your first memory of stepping into the Palace way back when? 

JAMES L. NEDERLANDER: I had been to the Fisher Theatre [in Detroit] before, but walking into the Palace was a grand experience I had never experienced before in a theatre. When I walked into the Palace, I was really walking into a palace!

NICK SCANDALIOS: The first time I was in the Palace was when I first started working for Nederlander as a receptionist, and I was invited to see La Cage aux Folles. And I went and sat in the house — left box.

STEWART F. LANE: For me, it was when I was in high school and when I caught Lauren Bacall in Applause, the musical version of All About Eve. It was very exciting to see her on stage.

Everything about the newly renovated Palace Theatre is spectacular — even the bathrooms are gorgeous! Take me through what has been done to it.

NS: I think the most basic thing: There are over 10,000 feet of added amenity space because of the lift in the theatre. Because of the lift, 10,000 square feet overall were added to the footprint, and a reasonably good chunk of that went to ensuring you could find the space to double the amount of bathrooms.

The front of the Palace Theatre. Photo by Rebecca J Michelson for Broadway Direct.
The front of the Palace Theatre. Photo by Rebecca J Michelson for Broadway Direct.

The entrance to the Palace was moved to 47th Street. Nick, you’ve talked about how the new “Palace experience” starts right when you walk through the entrance. 

NS: The moving of the entrance to 47th Street provides a much more gracious entryway for people — who, we admit, pay a lot of money to see Broadway shows. And so, by providing a grand and more gracious entrance when you come up, the experience begins in the lower lobby — it’s a walking pathway until you get into the auditorium. It’s far superior compared to what was there before.

SFL: The care and the concern about redoing the theatre was more than just slapping a new coat of paint on it. It was also making sure patrons had enough room with their seats when they sat watching a show in the theatre. We have all-new seats in beautiful royal blue.

There is something so special about the Palace Theatre on Broadway. Why is that?

JLN: It’s history. The performers it’s had. It being a vaudeville theatre then turned into a Broadway theatre. People like the Marx Brothers, Judy Garland, Bette Midler, have all played the Palace. I think it’s spectacular.

Jimmy, your father took this theatre over in 1964 and opened with Bob Fosse’s Sweet Charity starring Gwen Verdon in 1965. What made your father want to take it over?

JLN: He wanted to take it over because he thought it was the most prestigious theatre on Broadway. He said “playing the Palace” is everything. It’s still a prestigious theatre. We have people lining up wanting to “play the Palace.”

Nick Scandalios (center) with guests on stage at the Palace Theatre. Photo by Rebecca J Michelson for Broadway Direct.
Nick Scandalios (center) with guests on stage at the Palace Theatre. Photo by Rebecca J Michelson for Broadway Direct.

The very first show I saw at the Palace was The Will Rogers Follies. It was incredible, and I’ll never forget it. What’s your fondest memory of seeing a show at the Palace?

JLN: La Cage. It brings back so many memories. There were so many things going on at that time. I had a very dear friend who I was helping through cancer, and I would go and visit him a lot. I just loved the show. I would stop by and just watch in the back — it was a beautiful show. The music was great, and the acting was wonderful.

NS: I would have to say La Cage and Aida. La Cage because of what it means to the history of musical theater and how I felt as a young gay man to see that musical right as we were burgeoning into the full-blown AIDS crisis. I think there’s this important and special place that La Cage holds in the historical canon. That’s powerful to me. And for Aida, Elton John and Tim Rice’s incredible score is unbelievable. Deborah Cox and Heather Headley became friends. The Aidas have never left my life. It holds a special place in my heart.

SFL: La Cage holds a special place in my heart as well.  It was my third or fourth attempt to produce a show at the Palace. The importance of what it meant — a comedy selling gay marriage onstage with a great Jerry Herman score. And all my friends who I was trying to raise money from said it was a career killer: “No one is going to see a gay musical.” I said, “You’re missing the point here! Not only does it have social relevancy, but the score is terrific! And it’s funny!” With La Cage, it was more than making a Broadway musical — we were making a major social statement and cultural leap in the Broadway arena. And it was my first Tony Award as a producer!

In the spirit of all the greats who have “played the Palace,” from Judy Garland to Liza Minnelli to Diana Ross, and the list goes on, you have invited Tony, Grammy, and Emmy winner Ben Platt to help reopen with a two-week concert beginning on May 28.

NS: It was important to take a moment to acknowledge that an important piece of the Palace’s history is about the single live artist on the stage with their fans. The Palace as a Broadway theatre is unique. Artists have played many stages, but in the historic canon, The Palace is so known for that. And we hope to continue that tradition. We wanted to take a moment and nod to that historical period. It was a wonderful thing: Ben as an artist and theater creature, one of our own, wanted to do a concert and wanted to do music and be on a Broadway stage so quickly after just having done a major role on Broadway [Parade] only a year ago. So it was perfect timing for everything. We couldn’t be happier that it’s a theater artist giving a nod to this great piece of history of the Palace.

The Palace Theatre on Broadway. Photo by Rebecca J Michelson for Broadway Direct.
The Palace Theatre on Broadway. Photo by Rebecca J Michelson for Broadway Direct.

Following Ben, the first musical to help reopen the Palace is Elton John’s Tammy Faye, which marks a return for Elton at the Palace. 

JLN: My father was friends with Elton John for 40 years. I’ve known him for 30 years. We were in France last year, and I got a call that Elton and David Furnish would like to talk to me on Zoom. My daughter is such a big Elton fan; she didn’t even want to go to dinner, she wanted to stay with me to listen to Elton’s voice. And we talked, and they wanted the Aldwych Theatre [a Nederlander Theatre in London] for Tammy Faye. And I said the Aldwych is booked with TINA [The Tina Turner Musical]. So I said, “What do you guys think of the Palace?” And Elton just perked up! He did the great Aida there.

Jimmy, what do you think your father would say if he saw what all of you have done with the Palace?

JLN: He would say, “You guys have done a hell of a job — it’s beautiful!”

Let’s fast-forward to May 28. The first performance at the Palace. This moment was years in the making; what will be going through your minds?

SFL: Sitting there watching the curtain come up on Ben Platt, knowing that we have the orchestra, stagehands, front-of-house crew, people working — I’ll think the theatre is alive again! The Palace is breathing again.

NS: It’s been a long nine years. So I’ll be thinking a sense of satisfaction for completing something many thought couldn’t be done. Sitting there with an audience is the completion of that work.

JLN: From the first note to the last word, I hope everything works! [Laughs.] And then I’ll be so satisfied that we’re back!