Palace Theatre

aka "B.F. Keith's Palace Theatre" & "RKO Palace"
1564 Broadway, NYC

From 1913 through about 1929, the Palace attained legendary status among vaudeville performers as the flagship of the monopolistic Keith-Albee organization, and the most desired booking in the country.

Designed by Milwaukee architects Kirchoff & Rose, the 1,740-seat theatre was funded by Martin Beck, a vaudeville entrepreneur based in San Francisco, in an attempt to challenge Keith-Albee's east-coast monopoly. Albee in turn demanded that Beck turn over three-quarters ownership to use acts from the Keith circuit. Beck took the deal, and was in charge of the booking.

When the theatre finally opened on March 24, 1913 with headliner Ed Wynn, it was not an instant success. It lost money for months. The theater is notorious, too, for its enormous and difficult-to-sell second balcony in which nearly every seat has an obstructed view.

Soon the Palace became the premiere venue of the Keith-Albee circuit. The theater owner Albee sometimes traded on the performers' desire for this goal by forcing acts to take a pay cut for the privilege. Even so, to "play the Palace" meant that an entertainer had reached the pinnacle of his vaudeville career. Performer Jack Haley wrote:

Only a vaudevillian who has trod its stage can really tell you about it... only a performer can describe the anxieties, the joys, the anticipation, and the exultation of a week's engagement at the Palace. The walk through the iron gate on 47th Street through the courtyard to the stage door, was the cum laude walk to a show business diploma. A feeling of ecstasy came with the knowledge that this was the Palace, the epitome of the more than 15,000 vaudeville theaters in America, and the realization that you have been selected to play it. Of all the thousands upon thousands of vaudeville performers in the business, you are there. This was a dream fulfilled; this was the pinnacle of Variety success.

Playing the Palace" has been the dream of many performers since the theatre opened in 1913. For many years The Palace was the pre-eminent vaudeville theatre in the country and an engagement in this theatre meant that a performer had "made it." The who's who of entertainment royalty have performed on this stage, including Ethel Barrymore, Harry Houdini, Will Rogers, Ethel Merman, Judy Garland, Jerry Lewis, Harry Belafonte, Bette Midler, Shirley MacLaine and Diana Ross.

In 1965, The Nederlanders turned it into a legitimate theatre for the opening of Sweet Charity starring Gwen Verdon. Since then, it has housed star-studded hits including Lauren Bacall in Applause and Woman of the Year, Richard Kiley in Man of La Mancha, George Hearn in La Cage aux Folles, and Keith Carradine in The Will Rogers Follies. In 1994, the theatre was transformed to house Disney's Beauty and the Beast, which was followed by their musical, Aida.

The Palace has 1,740 seats and is one of The Nederlander Organization's nine Broadway theatres.

Programs available from this theatre:

  • Vaudeville program (1923)

  • Vaudeville program (1950)

  • Applause / 1971


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