Lafayette Theatre (Harlem)
The Lafayette Theatre, also known as "the House Beautiful," was an entertainment venue located at 132nd Street and 7th Avenue in Harlem, New York. It was the first New York theater to desegregate, as early as 1912. Here, African-American theatergoers were allowed to sit in orchestra seats instead of the balcony, to which they were relegated in other New York theaters. The Lafayette Players, the resident stock company, played before almost exclusively African-American audiences both in plays from white theater repertory and in the classics. The theater seated 2,000 and presented such Broadway hits as Madame X and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. From 1916-1919, the theatre was managed by Quality Amusement. Robert Levy, the owner of this entertainment company, drew large audiences of both blacks and whites with his sophisticated productions and groundbreaking work with black actors.
In 1923, Duke Ellington made his New York debut while performing in Wilbur Sweatman's band at the Lafayette, and later performed with his own group at the venue. Other jazz musicians who performed at the Lafayette include Fletcher Henderson, Bennie Moten, Chick Webb, and Zutty Singleton.
The Lafayette Theatre reached the height of its fame with the "Voodoo Macbeth", a production of Shakespeare's Macbeth, arranged and staged by Orson Welles that ran from 14 April to 20 June 1936. This show had an all African-American cast. It was a production of the Federal Theatre Project which was part of the Works Project Administration. The overture was by James P. Johnson and such notable actors as Canada Lee and Rose McClendon were part of the program. This production came to be known as the "Voodoo Macbeth" because of the various African elements employed in it.
Management changed several times and the theater was eventually turned into a vaudeville house; later it became a movie theater and finally a church, which was given a new facade ca. 1990.
- Cullen, Frank; with Hackman, Florence; and McNeilly, Donald. "Lafayette Theatre in Harlem", Vaudeville Old & New: An Encyclopedia of Variety Performers in America (New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2007):643
- Dunlap, David W. "Williams Institutional C. M. E. Church", From Abyssinian to Zion (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004):294
- Google Street View: the church in 2011
- New York City Department of Records (Municipal Archives) "2225-27 Adam C Powell Blvd" (photo from 1983-1988, showing theater facade)