Curtain Closes on Iconic Westchester Broadway Theatre
John Jordan | November 2020
ELMSFORD—Since the pandemic began in March and restrictions were imposed to prevent the spread of the virus, all too frequently news reports have detailed the unfortunate closure of a popular business somewhere in the Hudson Valley. Recently, news came that COVID-19 took another business victim—the storied Westchester Broadway Theatre in Elmsford which had been a staple for many in the region for nearly a half century.
Like other long-standing businesses that have shut their doors for good due to the pandemic, the Westchester Broadway Theatre will be missed by its patrons and employees, as well as the actors and musicians and technical staff that staged so many productions there.
However, it is rare that a businesses’ impact could be detailed in such stark numbers as the ownership of the WBT described in a recent e-mail to its patrons.
Tucked in a business park for nearly 46 years, owners Bob Funking, Bill and Von Ann Stutler staged lavish and entertaining Broadway productions, many of which received rave reviews. In an e-mailed letter to patrons on Nov. 3, the WBT owners noted at its two Elmsford locations, the Westchester Broadway Theatre produced 217 Broadway musicals and plays, approximately 75 children’s shows, presented 1,500 Monday/Tuesday Specials, employed nearly 5,000 actors, musicians, directors, choreographers, set, lights, sound and hair designers.
The theatre also employed over the years 2,000 dining room and kitchen personnel and in total entertained and served lunch and dinner to an estimated 6 million customers.
The ownership added that the theatre hosted many senior citizens groups, those with physical handicaps, produced benefits for children in institutions, Wounded Warrior fund raisers, high school sports award dinners, weddings, memorial services, business sales meetings (IBM, Subaru, Professional Golf) and many more. The Hudson River Clearwater summer scholarship and the White Plains Senior scholarship were awarded each year at the WBT.
In its e-mail and also in a message on its website, the WBT ownership said the coronavirus’ impact on the theatre industry has been devastating.
“As the world has been plunged into the intense emergency of COVID-19, Broadway has announced it will not reopen until June 2021 or later. Dinner-Theatre, because of social distancing requirements, will be the last entertainment category to be given permission. That may not happen until the end of 2021,” the WBT ownership stated in the Nov. 3 e-mail. “Our landlord, Robert-Martin, does not want to continue supporting our lease and we have no alternative but to close WBT after nearly 46 years. Sadly, the interior is to be destroyed and the building turned into a warehouse.”
They added that the theatre “had to use all its available funds to desperately try to keep the theatre going. Due to this ongoing situation the theatre is financially unable to offer refunds to those customers with advance tickets but has been able to arrange what we believe is a good alternative.” They noted that the White Plains Performing Arts Center has offered to try assisting affected WBT ticket holders by honoring outstanding tickets and gift cards for a future WPPAC show. The WPPAC is receiving no remuneration of any kind for performing this service, they noted.
On the WBT’s website, Stephen Ferri, White Plains PAC’s executive producer, states, “As someone who grew up seeing and working on shows at WBT, it’s with a heavy heart that we say goodbye to our colleague. The work they have done over the years was remarkable. When we heard of this news, we knew we had to do something to not only honor their legacy but also make sure we keep professional theatre alive in Westchester. We are honored to have the torch passed to us at White Plains PAC to take on that task!”
For more information on WPPAC, the details on the exchange program and to take a look at their past productions visit www.wppac.com/wbt . The WPPAC can also be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 914-328-1600.
The WBT ownership in a message to its patrons and employees stated, “It is with a heavy heart that we leave you but wish you much good will, heartfelt thank you, and of course, good live theatre going in the near future. We will miss you!”
Editor’s Note: As a patron of the WBT who has seen a host of very entertaining productions at the theatre, perhaps the most enjoyable part of my evening would be to walk down the two entrance hallways to the dining area and stage to see the numerous photographs of past productions taken by my longtime friend and Real Estate In-Depth photographer John Vecchiolla. While I will miss going to the WBT to celebrate my wedding anniversary or a holiday, the chance to see John’s great photography is perhaps what I will miss the most. A staple of the Hudson Valley’s entertainment industry is gone, one can only hope that perhaps the White Plains Performing Arts Center will help fill the void left by the WBT’s closure.