The new 99 seat AMT Theater at 354 West 45th Street, scheduled to open in the spring of 2022, is taking a unique approach towards success in Manhattan. Smack dab in a city of eight million people, the mindset of AMT is going to be that of a small regional theater. Al Tapper, the award winning composer/lyricist at the heart of AMT, understands the paradox but embraces the challenge. “On the one hand we’re on the same block as Moulin Rouge, a big Broadway show. But we’re also in the middle of Hell’s Kitchen, which is geographically a relatively small neighborhood. It has its own shops, restaurants, parks, schools…there’s a really great vibe to being here and we want to be a part of this community. We’ll think about it as if we were in a small town. We’ll plan a season of four or five shows each year, gather subscribers, offer them discounts and invite them to opening nights, readings, special events, etc. This will be their theater as much as ours. Their home.”
Hell’s Kitchen is generally considered to be the part of Manhattan from 41st Street to 59th Street, Eighth Avenue to the Hudson. The story goes that in the early part of the 20th century the area was populated by a particularly rough group of criminals and hooligans. Dutch Fred the Cop was a police officer whose job it was to keep the peace. During one of the more violent riots his rookie partner turned to him and said, “Oh my god, Dutch. This is Hell!” Dutch Fred the Cop reportedly shook his head and said, “No, laddie. Hell is mild. This is Hell’s Kitchen.” Since then that part of town grew and prospered but has still maintained a tight neighborhood feel.
Kelli Maguire will be running the Cabaret series at AMT and she thinks the idea of a regional theater in the middle of Manhattan is not only novel but valid. “There’s no reason to market to all of Manhattan when we have our own village right here. You have all these tall skyscrapers in the area….Manhattan Plaza, The Strand, Silver Towers, Mima….going up 50, 60, 70 stories high with twenty apartments on each floor. There’s our audience. You have hundreds of brownstones within blocks of the theater. There’s Restaurant Row, literally around the corner, which brings thousands of people to the vicinity. So the audience is here. But more than that, we want to bring in the ‘feel’ of a regional theater. The essence of a small town. I’ve been to productions all over the country, from San Diego to Montgomery to Greenville, South Carolina….and the big difference you see is in the audience. When they go to a show they are smiling and enjoying themselves as soon as they open the program. They’re on your side, they want the show to be good. Here in New York I think too often we go into a show almost daring the actors to entertain us. Our bar is high, which is great, but after the past year and a half we just want to give people a good time.”
Tapper agrees. “We did a show in Cooperstown, in the Hall of Fame, four hours away from Broadway. Everyone who came was local. Maybe two hundred people in the audience. From the time the lights went down to the time they came back up they were having a ball. Why can’t we get that here in New York?”
Construction begins soon on the new theater, which will feature musicals, new works, children’s theater, cabaret and more. Productions are slated to begin in early 2022.
All photos by T. Sportiello