NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).-
A sculptural representation of a bookworm 140 feet of scripts and songbooks, twisted along a steel skeleton corkscrews across the Drama Book Shop in Manhattan. It starts with ancient Greek texts and, 2,400 volumes later, spills into in a pile that includes Summer: The Donna Summer Musical.
This 3,500-pound tribute to theatrical history is the centerpiece of the century-old bookstores new location, opening Thursday on West 39th Street.
The shop like so many bookstores around the country had brushes with death, caused not only by e-commerce but also by fire and flood, before encountering a rent hike it could not withstand in 2018. The beloved institution, where students, artists, scholars and fans could browse memoirs and bone up for auditions, was in danger of closing.
Then came an unexpected rescue. Four men enriched by Hamilton the musicals creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda; its director, Thomas Kail; its lead producer, Jeffrey Seller; and the theater owner, James L. Nederlander bought the store from its longtime owners. Kail has a particularly close relationship with the shop; 20 years ago, just out of college, he formed a small theater company in its basement. After he teamed with Miranda, the two worked on In the Heights there.
I was not born in a trunk; I was born in the basement of the Drama Book Shop, Kail said. All of my early creative conversations and relationships were forged in that shop, and the thought of it not existing was painful. I couldnt imagine New York City without it, and I didnt want to imagine New York City without it.
The bookstore is opening the same day that a film adaptation of In the Heights is scheduled to be released in theaters and on HBO Max, and Kail noted the thematic connections.
Heights is about a different place in Manhattan where rents are going up and businesses are getting forced out, he said. Theres an obvious and clear line.
The Hamilton team closed the stores previous location on West 40th Street in January 2019 and put its contents in storage, anticipating reopening at a still-to-be-determined location later that year. But New York real estate being what it is, finding that location and renovating it took longer than anticipated. Then the pandemic arrived, closing theaters, disrupting the retail and tourism sectors, and quieting midtown.
Now, the Drama Book Shop is back, just as Broadway gears up for a late summer return.
As all the theaters are starting to put dates out there, it feels like were part of that opening gesture, Kail said.
Visitors can pick up books about theater (including Andrew Lloyd Webbers presciently titled memoir, Unmasked) as well as the play that just won a prize and the play that no ones heard about, Kail said. The store will also sell rare books, such as a first edition of Three Tall Women, signed by Edward Albee, and a first-edition script of West Side Story.
Like many bookstores, the owners hope to augment their income with a coffee bar and food. But theres a personal flourish: Among the coffees sold will be a blend from Puerto Rico, part of Mirandas effort to support farmers on the island where his parents are from.
My hope is that we can continue to be a hub for the theater community, Miranda said. I dont expect well make a great fortune, but I hope with the coffee well break even.
The interior 3,500 square feet on the main floor, plus a 3,000-square-foot basement is designed by David Korins, the Hamilton set designer. Theres an octagonal banquette inspired by a piece of furniture in the 1940 film The Shop Around the Corner and, for Hamilton fans, a pair of armchairs that are replicas of the one George Washington sits in during the musicals Cabinet battles.
The walls feature more than 125 theater-themed posters, 17 of which (Kiss of the Spider Woman, Crazy for You) were given to Kail by literary agent Gilbert Parker just before he died in 2019. There will also be a photograph of Chester, a German spitz who often lounged by the door at the previous location; Chester is alive and well, a spokesman said, but not permitted by health regulations now that food is being sold.
The purveyors are anticipating a variety of events, like book signings and author talks. And the basement which is not yet finished but houses a piano on which Paciencia y Fe, a song from In the Heights, was written will be used for workshops and other programs.
Six people who worked at the stores former location are rejoining the staff, a spokesman said.
Because of continuing concern about the coronavirus, the store will have a capacity limit when it opens; the owners are recommending that people make free reservations online, but there will also be a line for those without reservations.
Asked what he hopes to see once the shop is open, Korins said, Everyone would hope the next Lin-Manuel Miranda and Tommy Kail will be sitting there, conjuring up their next project.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times