Last night, I saw the movie ME & ORSON WELLES, a fictionalized film about Welles' landmark production of "Julius Caesar" that marked the stunning debut of his company of players, The Mercury Theatre. The movie begins with the company arriving at their new home on 41st Street, a playhouse on the fringe of the Broadway theatre district. I was thinking to myself, could they be referring to what is now the Nederlander Theatre, home to RENT for nearly a decade? Surely enough, the answer is yes.
The Nederlander has a history that reaches back even further than that. It opened in 1921 as the National Theatre where it featured plays by Lillian Hellman and Tennessee Williams. Then it was the Mercury from 1937-1940. After that, it was known as the Billy Rose Theatre and was famous for being the home to Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf". It became the Nederlander in 1980 and then was semi-occupied for the next 15 years til "RENT" arrived as transfer from NY Theatre Workshop. And the rest, as they say, is Broadway history.
I'm always fascinated by the history of these old Broadway houses and the shows they hosted over their many years in existence. But I never would have guessed that Orson Welles and Jonathan Larson were somehow connected by the same playhouse on the edge of Times Square.