The Westchester Broadway Theatre in Elmsford will be permanently closing after 46 years of continuous operation.
New York state requirements to combat Covid-19 forced the theater to suspend operations back in March when all theaters and concert venues were ordered closed.
At that time, the theater posted a notice saying, in part, “The safety and well-being of our patrons, actors, musicians and our entire staff is our first priority. We should not be thinking of ways to protect the theatre but thinking of ways to protect our fellow humans. Our health must come first.”
The theater has been unable to schedule a reopening date because of uncertainties caused by the pandemic. With the Broadway League, the trade organization consisting of Broadway producers and theater owners, saying the earliest they plan to reopen would be June 1, 2021, the prospects for Westchester Broadway Theatre became dim.
The theater had reached an agreement with the White Plains Performing Arts Center (WPPAC) to accept tickets and gift certificates that WBT had sold but which had not yet been used by patrons. Holders of tickets and gift certificates were being advised to contact the WPPAC.
The theater owners said that they had entertained and served meals to more than 6 million patrons since opening.
Theater employees were notified a few days ago that the temporary closing was becoming permanent. In a letter signed by theater management, the employees were told, “We cannot be a profitable business while being closed and it looks dim for any live theatre to be open for the foreseeable future. Dinner-Theatre presents unique social distance problems and would be the last entertainment category allowed to open.”
Theater founders Bob Funking and Bill Stutler introduced their concept of offering a complete package of dinner and a Broadway-quality live show along with free parking to Westchester in July 1974.
Matinees also were offered featuring lunch and proved especially popular with tour groups, many of whom came from out of state. They began in Robert Martin Cos. Cross Westchester Executive Park operating as An Evening Dinner Theater. In 1991, they moved into a new, larger custom-built theater also in the Executive Park that carried the name Westchester Broadway Theater and a street address of 1 Broadway Plaza.
Since the beginning, patrons were offered a complete entertainment package as an alternative to going into Manhattan to see a show. The shows produced by Funking and Stutler along with their associate producer Lisa Tiso featured many actors who were members of the professional union Actors’ Equity.
Classic shows by Rodgers and Hammerstein, George Gershwin and Lerner and Loewe steadily pulled audiences, which included groups as well as individuals. More than 200 productions of Broadway musicals were presented over the years along with an additional approximately 75 productions especially for children. In addition, the theater staged about 1,000 special events such as comedy nights, concerts and big band shows to entertain audiences. Stars such as Tom Jones, George Carlin, Paul Anka, Jackie Mason, Wayne Newton, Mickey Rooney, Leslie Uggams, Lewis Black, Betsy Palmer and Harry Belafonte appeared at the theater.
Numerous actors, directors and choreographers got their starts or developed their careers at Westchester Broadway Theatre, including Rob Marshall who went on to direct the film “Chicago” and five-time Tony Award-winner Susan Stroman who directed and choreographed the Broadway smash “The Producers.”
The theater received numerous honors over the years, including proclamations from Westchester County. In 2004, Funking and Stutler were inducted into the Westchester County Business Hall of Fame.
The theater billed itself as “the longest running Equity theatre in the state of New York.” In addition to actors, musicians, stagehands and technicians, the theater employed an office and box office staff, kitchen staff and numerous waiters and waitresses.
The theater was set up with a seating capacity of about 450 people at tables in a stadium seating arrangement with private luxury boxes elevated at the rear of the auditorium. The theater owners said that the interior is slated to be “destroyed” and the building turned into a warehouse. Landlord Robert Martin Co. has a large inventory of warehouse and flex/industrial space in its portfolio.
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