The great stage, film and TV actor James Earl Jones will once again see his name up in lights: Broadway’s 110-year-old Cort Theater is being renamed in Jones’ honor.
The Shubert Organization announced today that the venue will become the James Earl Jones Theatre “in recognition of Mr. Jones’s lifetime of immense contributions to Broadway and the entire artistic community.”
The Cort has been closed for extensive renovation and construction work during the Covid pandemic, with the work expected to be finished this summer. The renamed James Earl Jones Theatre will include a newly built wing when it opens for productions following the construction work. Shubert plans to hold a formal dedication ceremony at that time.
In a statement, Jones said, “For me standing in this very building sixty-four years ago at the start of my Broadway career, it would have been inconceivable that my name would be on the building today. Let my journey from then to now be an inspiration for all aspiring actors.”
Though Jones’ first Broadway casting was as an understudy in 1957’s short-lived The Egghead, his breakthrough came the following year at the Cort Theatre in Sunrise at Campobello, Dore Schary’s play about Franklin Delano Roosevelt starring Ralph Bellamy. In all, Jones has appeared in 21 Broadway productions, including his Tony-winning performances in The Great White Hope (1969) and Fences (1987).
Just since the turn of the century, Jones has starred on Broadway in On Golden Pond (2005), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (2008), Driving Miss Daisy (2010), Gore Vidal’s The Best Man (2012), You Can’t Take It With You (2014) and The Gin Game (2015). In 2017 he was awarded the Tony’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and over the course of his career has received the National Medal of Arts and the Kennedy Center Honor.
In addition to his Tonys, Jones’ accolades include a 2011 Honorary Award Lifetime Achievement Oscar, two Emmys (1990’s Heat Wave, 1991’s Gabriel’s Fire) and a Grammy (1977’s Great American Documents recording), putting him in the rarefied EGOT community.
“The Shubert Organization is so incredibly honored to put James – an icon in the theatre community, the Black community, and the American community – forever in Broadway’s lights,” said Robert E. Wankel, Shubert CEO and board chair. “That James deserves to have his name immortalized on Broadway is without question.”
Though it aligns with a pledge made last summer, the renaming was reportedly already in the planning stages when the Shubert Organization became a signatory, along with such other Broadway owners as Jujamcyn Theaters, the Nederlander Organization and Lincoln Center Theatre, to the New Deal For Broadway. Written by the nonprofit advocacy organization Black Theatre United, the New Deal, designed to make Broadway a more racially inclusive industry, included a pledge by theater owners to have at least one venue named after a Black artist (Jujamcyn owns the August Wilson Theatre).
The Cort, designed by theatre architect Thomas Lamb in the style of an 18th Century French palace and located at 138 W. 48th Street in Manhattan, opened in 1912 to house the productions of stage impresario John Cort. The venue was purchased by the Shuberts in 1927.
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