NEW BRUNSWICK – Coming together in the heart of New Brunswick is a 23-story building that will house two state-of-the-art theaters and a new home for George Street Playhouse.
This month, George Street Playhouse executives provided a tour of the site and also announced the theater’s 2019-2020 season that will open at the new site.
“This theater has been a dream long felt and held and it’s finally happening because of a great public-private partnership,” said George Street Playhouse Artistic Director David Saint during Tuesday’s tour and season announcement. Saint credited New Brunswick, Middlesex County, the state, DEVCO and individual support as key partners to bring the project to life. “I can’t tell you how thrilling it is for me to stand her on this stage today.”
The new season features five shows that will take place in the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center’s two new theaters: the 463-seat Elizabeth Ross Theater and the 259-seat Arthur Laurents Theater. To help imagine the size of the new theaters, the Playhouse’s Rutgers University Cook Campus location has 189 seats.
The shows will feature two new musicals, a one-woman comedy starring a television personality, a suspense thriller based on a best-selling novel and a world-premiere historical drama by Playhouse favorite Joe DiPietro.
Aside from the season being the Playhouse’s 23rd, it will mark a significant achievement for the theater. For the first time in 45 years George Street Playhouse will perform in a place designed for theater productions.
“It makes a huge difference,” Saint said.
George Street Playhouse originally opened in the 1970s in a building that was formerly a supermarket on Burnet Street. A decade later, it moved to a former YMCA site on Livingston Avenue. The last two seasons it operated at the Rutgers University Cook Campus in the former home of the New Jersey Museum of Agriculture.
The New Brunswick Performing Arts Center is actually being built on the site of the Playhouse former Livingston Avenue location, which also housed Crossroads Theatre Co.
The American Repertory Ballet and Rutgers University Mason Gross School of the Arts will join as resident companies with George Street and Crossroads.
The new performance center will host a number of modern audience amenities that help enhance the theater experience, such as a full orchestra pit in the Elizabeth Ross Theater, an in-lobby bar and of course the seats.
“We’ll have beautiful seats that I’ve already tried out and sat in. They’re lovely. We’re going to have a huge show curtain here that can go up as well,” Saint said. “So, we’ll have all the amenities of the best-of-the-best kind of theater. It’s my dream theater here. It’s come to life, and I’m very happy to share it with all of you.”
But perhaps one of the most unique features that Saint noted is that the stages are designed large enough to have productions go straight to Broadway without the need for any modifications.
“[The stage is] wider here than any Broadway stage,” Saint said. “We have the depth, deeper than most Broadway stages. So this facility, you can actually try out a show and bring it right into New York without making any changes in the physical design.”
At 10 Livingston Ave., the performing arts center is next door to the State Theatre New Jersey, perhaps creating New Jersey’s most impressive theater district.
George Street Playhouse’s new season starts with “Last Days of Summer” in October. The show is a musical based on the novel by Steven Kluger. The musical is about a young boy named Joey in 1942 who dealing with neighborhood bullies develops a relationship with the star third baseman of the New York Giants.
The season continues with “My Life on a Diet,” “Midwives,” “Conscience,” and “A Walk on the Moon.” Dates of these productions is available at georgestreetplayhouse.org.
“I want you to understand what a huge day this is for New Jersey, for New Brunswick in particular, but for New Jersey as a state because it does mean that we are going to be able to host a lot of new exciting work,” Saint said. “The biggest producers in New York have all said to me, what you’ve done so well is you have kept a space intimate, so that we can engage an audience’s response to a new piece, combined with the technical facilities to support a big Broadway musical.”
Overall, the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center is a $172 million project designed to transform the city’s downtown cultural arts district. For George Street Playhouse’s part, the theater company has received nearly $8 million in donations.
The complex will include 30,000 square feet of office space and 207 residential apartment units featuring market and affordable housing rate units.