The Shuberts built the Ambassador Theatre in 1921, one of four theatres they constructed on 48th and 49th Streets as part of their post-World War I rapid expansion. None of the other three (the Ritz, now the Walter Kerr; the Forrest, now the Eugene O’Neill; and the 49th St, now demolished) are currently operated by the Shubert Organization.
In its inaugural decade, the Ambassador was primarily a home to operettas and musical comedies. It’s first production was The Rose Girl (1921), followed the same year by Sigmund Romberg and Dorothy Donnelly’s Blossom Time (1921), which became one of the theatre’s greatest hits of the time (592 performances), and one of the most successful Shubert operettas. Other early shows include The Lady in Ermine (1922), Queen High (1926), Angela (1928), Owen Davis’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby (1926), The Racket (1927) and Leo Tolstoy’s Redemption (1928).
The 1930s and 1940s saw few theatrical productions at the Ambassador. Two of note include Ayn Rand’s Night of January 16 (1935) and Danny Kaye’s Broadway debut in The Straw Hat Revue (1939). From 1936 through 1945, the theatre served primarily as a venue for radio broadcasts and motion-picture exhibition. From 1945 to 1950 it was used exclusively as a movie house, and in the 1950s was leased to the fledgling Dumont Television Network.
In 1956 J.J. Shubert reclaimed and refurbished the Ambassador for legitimate theatre, reopening with a production of The Loud Red Patrick (1956) starring Arthur Kennedy and David Wayne. Other shows of the time include Lawrence and Lee’s The Gang’s All Here (1959) with E.G. Marshall, Melvyn Douglas, and Arthur Hill; A Passage to India (1962) featuring Gladys Cooper and Donald Moffatt; Calculated Risk (1962) starring Joseph Cotten; Absence of a Cello (1964) with Ruth White and Charles Grodin; and The Lion in Winter (1966) featuring Robert Preston, Rosemary Harris, and Christopher Walken. One of the Ambassador’s biggest successes of the 1960s was You Know I Can’t Hear You When the Water’s Running (1967), starring George Grizzard, Eileen Heckart, Matin Balsam, and Melinda Dillon, which was followed by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt’s Celebration (1969).
The 1970s were a slow time for the playhouse. Jim Dale played in a revival of Moliére’s Scapino (1974), Linda Hopkins starred in Me and Bessie (1976), and Gregory Hines reached stardom in Eubie! (1978). Other productions from the 1970s and 1980s include Godspell (1977), Miss Margarida’s Way (1977), the gospel musical Your Arms Too Short to Box with God (1980), A View from the Bridge (1983), a revival of Dreamgirls (1987) with Lilias White, the Shubert-produced Ain’t Misbehavin’ revival (1988) starring Nell Carter, and the revival of You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown (1999), featuring Roger Bart and Kristin Chenoweth. Recent shows include the Pulitzer-prize winning Topdog/Underdog (2002) by Suzan-Lori Parks, and the revival of Kander and Ebb’s Chicago (2003), which moved here from the Shubert Theatre.
The plot of land for the Ambassador required that the auditorium be placed diagonally on its relatively small lot. This resulted in a lack of stage-wing space, and a uniquely shaped hexagonal auditorium. The exterior of the building is simple, with little ornamentation other than some brick patterning. The interiors, designed by architect Herbert Krapp, employ more elaborate Adam-style plasterwork in the decoration of the walls, ceiling, boxes, doorways and arches. The design motif was a favorite of Krapp’s.
Details on the Ambassador Theatre's Accessibility
Theatre is not completely wheelchair accessible. There are two small steps into theatre from the main entrance from the sidewalk. The side entrance has no steps from the sidewalk, please alert Box Office upon arrival. Please be advised that where there are steps either into or within the theatre, we are unable to provide assistance.
Accessibility by Seating Section
Orchestra: Seating is accessible to all parts of the Orchestra without steps. Wheelchair seating is located in the Orchestra only.
Mezzanine(second level): 2 flights of stairs up 38 steps. Please note, once on the Mezzanine level there are approximately 2 steps per row. Entrance to Front Mezzanine is behind row E. Entrance to Rear Mezzanine is in front of row A.
Handrails: Available at the end of every stepped seat row in the Mezzanine.
There is a wheelchair accessible restroom.