In the theater world, after the curtain falls and the set has been struck, the ghost light is placed on the stage. Practically speaking, the ghost light has a simple purpose: To ensure that no one falls off the stage during the night. However, this light is said to serve another purpose. As a light to guide dramatic ghosts back to the stage. Every theater has a ghost. From the small community theaters to the biggest Broadway houses. In fact, several Broadway theaters are a proud home to the ghosts of old New York. They are part of the magic of theater, and their stories are as spectacular as the shows that surround them.
The Palace Theater
This theater is currently under a massive renovation. But, when it’s up and running, it’s rumored to be home to over 100 ghosts. Sadly, many of these ghosts include children hiding in the mezzanine or playing with toys in the hallway. There are musical ghosts as well, including a woman in white playing cello in the pit. Judy Garland is even said to make an appearance on stage every so often, reliving her glory days in concert. However, you must beware of one particular spirit. Should you ever be in the theater at night, and hear the soft melody of a Steinway Piano, don’t look toward the balcony. If you do, you’ll see Louis Borsellino, a former acrobat recreating his final performance, before plummeting to his death. It’s said anyone who sees this ghost will be dead within a year.
This theater is currently home to Ain’t No Mo’, an outrageous comedy about the black experience in America. This theater is also home to the ghost of its namesake, David Belasco. Belasco used to live in the apartment above the theater; an apartment that is still intact to this day, although it’s marked as condemned. Some folks have reported hearing footsteps and laughter up there, assuming it to be Belasco’s spirit since he was the only one to ever live in the apartment. Belasco also keeps up with the shows in his theater, sitting in the balcony in his favorite mezzanine seat. It’s said that if a cast or crew member sees Belasco on their opening night, that means your show will have a good run.
The Eugene O’Neill
This theater is currently home to The Book of Mormon, an outrageous comedy by the makers of South Park. The spirits in the theater appreciate comedy as well. The nameless spirits, a boy and a girl, like to play pranks on the cast and crew, even during the show. The spirits will appear on stage and whisper in the cast member’s ears. They’ll pull hair in the make-up room and hide props from everyone. No one knows who these spirits are, and given their attitudes, no one wants to know.
The Gershwin Theater
This theater has been the longtime home of Wicked and of paranormal activity. The theater reports three ghosts, though the people working there have only named one (which seems lazy but doing eight shows a week saps a lot of creativity I guess). This ghost is named Drew, and he likes to tap people on the shoulder before they head out on stage. The cast and crew once saw him watching the show from backstage with his two nameless friends: a man in a blue suit and the other in a white t-shirt.
This theater is currently home to A Strange loop, an absurdist comedy that’s equal parts Inception and call to action. But that’s not all that this theater holds. The Lyceum is the oldest running theater on Broadway, and the spirits there reflect that. One spirit that is particularly active that of Bob Fosse, legendary choreographer, and theater artist. Most recently, during a production of The Visit, Chita Rivera and crew could see and smell cigarette smoke and heard strange noises on stage. They assume this was Fosse due to his relationship with Chita. Regardless of whether or not the smoke was him, he at least saw the show from his favorite balcony seat, as so many Broadway ghosts seem to do.
The Stephen Sondheim Theater
This theater is the home of & Juliet, a musical from the team that brought you Schitts Creek. I don’t have a cute transition for this one, but the ghost is Henry Miller, the former namesake of the theater. Legend has it that saying his name in the theater is bad luck (I assume because he hates the name change, but that’s never been confirmed). This bad luck can sometimes be dangerous, like in the case of Kevin Duda, an actor who performed in Beautiful: The Carol King Musical. He made the mistake of asking what Henry Miller thought of a sign bearing his name over the stage door. Kevin then got into a backstage elevator, which abruptly lost power in between floors.
The New Amsterdam
This theater is the current home to Disney behemoth, Aladdin, but the magic of that theater is there even when the curtain is drawn. The Theater was once the venue of the Ziegfeld Follies and one, Olive Thomas, has stuck around for a while. Thomas is easily the most respected ghost in the theater world. Her portraits have been hung on stage right and left backstage and the staff wishes her a friendly “goodnight” as they leave for the evening. Normally, Thomas is a harmless ghost, appearing to men for some innocent flirting. Some staff have even claimed to dance with the spirit, a rare instance of a ghost with friends. However, Thomas isn’t always so nice. Whenever a new show enters the theater, or when a renovation is made, she has a habit of flickering the lights and hiding props.
Many people dream of being on Broadway. The glitz, the glamor, and the stardom entice big dreamers to take a chance. When you make it on Broadway, you want to stay as long as possible. Some performers, producers, and even audience members have even opted to live in the neighborhood or as we see in this instance, stick around for over a century. With Broadway coming back after being gone for more than a year, these spirits probably hunger for a good performance. I’m sure you do too. So, buy a ticket and attend a show. You never know who, or what, you’ll be sitting next too.
Russell is a writer and comic based in New York City. His plays have been featured at Penn State’s Cultural Conversation’s Festival, The NYC Thespis Festival, and Imaginarium’s Inaugural Theater Festival. Follow him on TikTok and Instagram @pooleparty528