Following a massive $40 million renovation, New York’s historic Public Theater is getting financial aid from some of its most renowned alumni.
Meryl Streep, who got her start working with the off-Broadway theater company in the 1970s, announced at a reception on Thursday that she is donating $1 million to the venue. The three-time Oscar winner, who was still in her mid-20s when she first appeared in the Public’s free Shakespeare productions in Central Park, thanked the Public’s founder, the late Joseph Papp, calling him a friend and mentor. The actress also thanked writer/director Nora Ephron, who passed away in June after a battle with leukemia.
Streep’s donation follows an announcement last week that Oscar nominee Anne Hathaway will play a one-night-only benefit show at the Public’s side venue, Joe’s Pub, on Oct. 24. Hathaway, who was lauded for her turn as Viola in the Public’s free Shakespeare production of “Twelfth Night” in 2009, will sing several numbers from the musical “Cabaret.” The tunes will give Hathaway a chance to show off her vocal chops two months before the big-screen premiere of “Les Misérables,” in which she stars as Fantine.
Tickets for the show cost between $100 and $300, with proceeds going to help revitalize the theater following its renovation, which has been three years in the making.
The Public officially opened its doors to the renovated theater on Thursday, in a ceremony attended by Mayor Bloomberg, as well as longtime theater staples such as Vanessa Redgrave, Mandy Patinkin and Liev Schreiber.
The theater’s renovation included a facelift for its longtime home, the 158-year-old Astor Library Building, whose façade has been completely restored. Other improvements include a new glass canopied granite veranda, a broader sidewalk and ramps to provide easier access for disabled patrons. The building’s lobby and entryway have also received a makeover, with a new centrally located box office and larger bathrooms.
The theater also unveiled a new 2,000-square-foot cocktail lounge called the Library, which is expected to seat roughly 84 guests.
The Public is among the most influential off-Broadway theaters in New York City, with a storied history rooted in the enduring impact of Joseph Papp, who died in 1991. Born in Brooklyn and mentored by Harlem Renaissance actress Eulalie Spence, Papp was a natural impresario -- at times impulsive and reckless -- who spent his life in pursuit of the idea that theater should be for the people. In the 1950s, he began mounting free productions of Shakespeare in Central Park, a tradition that lives on to this day, and he was among the first producers to promote diversity through multiracial casting. In his later years, he led a preservation movement to save some of the city’s decaying Broadway theaters from demolition.
Throughout its history, the Public has nurtured numerous future Broadway transfers, including the musical “Hair,” which premiered at the theater in 1967, the same year it opened.
The new renovation is the first upgrade in the Public’s history.