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What's in a Theater Name?

The Shuberts give Cadillac top billing at the Winter Garden, and Filichia ponders the implications. logo

But would he like Mamma Mia!?
Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac
in an etching by Charles Barker
So, the situation that we first heard about three years ago--and, for a long time, erroneously believed dead--is now officially with us: The Cadillac Winter Garden. And I suspect you're as disappointed as I.

I think that next to "musical comedy," the two most glorious words in the English language are "Winter Garden." It's my favorite Broadway theater: not just because it housed Funny Girl and Follies, not just because of that fabulous (albeit now smaller) sign above the theater, not just because it's been handsomely refurbished, but also because of that beautiful, beautiful name.

Well, people can argue that we still have that beautiful name but that another one has been added to it. In fact, I think "Cadillac" is a beautiful word, too. And I have nothing against Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, the French colonial governor who founded Detroit in 1701. I'd even like it if the Fisher Theatre in Detroit were renamed for him.

But, of course, it isn't the Shubert Organization's great interest in French colonial governors that has caused them to add the name "Cadillac" to the Winter Garden. They're naming it for the General Motors car...for a steep price. While General Motors already had one of its namesakes theatrically represented in Detroit--the theater was named after the guy who provided each of GM's cars with a "Body by Fisher"--the company simply didn't have a Broadway presence while the other two big automakers did: Ford has the Ford Center and, for decades, Chrysler had the Plymouth (except that Chrysler doesn't make Plymouths any more, and the Plymouth Theatre was not named for the car). After this deal with GM, shouldn't the Shuberts go and dun Chrysler for all the years it was promoting Plymouth sedans? And I thought Gerry Schoenfeld was a good businessman!

And if all these objections aren't enough, I have another: The word "Cadillac" has become a shadow of its former self. At least once a year, I read in some newspaper or magazine that the Cadillac is a dinosaur. While it once represented the ultimate in automotive excellence and elegance, now younger people eschew it for BMWs, Range Rovers, and other, more trendy cars. I can see the morons who think Broadway is an outmoded entertainment nodding their heads and smiling condescendingly when they find that the Cadillac name is on a theater. Sure, let one dinosaur mate with another.

And must Cadillac be attached to the Winter Garden? I'd feel much better if the word were pasted on the Imperial or the Ambassador, since both were once home to Dreamgirls and that show at least has a song about a Cadillac car. But I guess the Shuberts are saving those properties so that we can eventually have the Imperial Margarine Theatre and the Ambassador Luggage Theatre.

I've been following Broadway since 1961, and the irony is that the Shuberts are the only theater owners who never renamed any one of their theaters. All of their houses have the same names they had in the Kennedy administration, and those names had already been in place for decades by that time. So while the Nederlanders eventually changed the names of their Alvin, Billy Rose, 46th Street, and Uris, while Jujamcyn replaced the monikers of the ANTA and the Ritz, the Shuberts stood pat--until GM made them an offer they greedily decided not to refuse.

All of this really started when the Roundabout sold the naming rights of their newly-refurbished Selwyn to American Airlines. But let me tell you this: I have a book in which I list every show I see, when I see it, what I thought of it, and what theater it's in--and whenever I go to that handsome new showplace on 42nd Street, I write it in as the "American." That's good enough for me. So I'll be writing in "Winter Garden" if I ever see a show in the Winter Garden again. (Hey, I'm not getting any younger, and Mamma Mia! looks like it's going to be there long after I'm dead and buried, especially if it wins the Tony--which I don't think is at all out of the question because it's the show that will best please a lot of road operators who vote, as well as their audiences. That it has already had a road tour could be a barrier, however.)

All right. As Mrs. Lovett taught us at a theater that has since been renamed, "Times is hard." And if--and what a great "if" this is!--at least part of the money is put toward theatrical productions, maybe it's all for the best. After all, as Shakespeare once asked, "What's in a name?" Still, I'm not looking forward to the Palace becoming the Caesar's Palace Theatre, or the Golden turning to the Golden Books Theatre, or the Lyceum becoming the Uncle Ben's Riceum.


[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at [email protected]]

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