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Long Live the Kings! and BAM Revamps: Happenings in Brooklyn

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The block of 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues is not the only place in New York City where dilapidated theatres deserve renovation--and Bruce Paul Friedman wants the public, the city, and developers everywhere to know it.

Friedman is the founder of Save the Kings, an organization dedicated to the salvation of the Loew's Kings theatre on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. Built in 1929 and possessed of a history as glorious and storied as any theatre in New York's five boroughs, the Kings' stage and 30 dressing rooms were at one time occupied by everyone from Bob Hope and Jimmy Durante to Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and the Nicholas Brothers. A pint-sized Ben Vereen rehearsed his dance steps on its stage. And, in recent articles publicizing her new film "The Mirror Has Two Faces," Barbara Streisand has reminisced about her days as an usherette at the Flatbush palace.

The Kings held out longer than most theatres of its type; it didn't give up the ghost until 1978, when the city took it over for nonpayment of taxes. The theatre has remained dormant since then.

Recently, however, the city has renewed its efforts to find a buyer for the building, encouraged by an economic revival in the area. Friedman--whose devotion to the Kings can be traced to the days when his father worked

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in its orchestra pit as a woodwind player--envisions a rebirth akin to that being enjoyed by the New 42nd Street's theatres.

"Our proposal is that this theatre could be the next New Amsterdam," said Friedman.

Dan Schachter, director of community development at the Flatbush Development Corporation, said that interested developers will be able to submit proposals to the New York City Economic Development Corporation in the near future. In contrast to a 1990 push by the city to find a buyer for the Kings, current proposals will not limit bidders to a theatre format.

"It's unlikely there will be any restraints," said Schachter. "[The Kings] could become a mini-mall or it could become a live theatre."

Will Theatre Reign at Kings?

Friedman hopes to see the Kings returned to its original incarnation as a performing arts venue. He recognizes, however, that any renovation may take its lead from the entertainment stew of live theatre, movies, museums, and theme restaurants which has emerged on 42nd Street.

"What Disney did at Times Square is the same thing malls are doing around the country: mixing entertainment with memorabilia," said Friedman. "Any shopping mall across the country has recognized that you must have entertainment; you must have a theatre to draw people into the mall."

The museum part of such a complex, Friedman offers, could be founded on his own private collection: a cache of Kings memorabilia and artifacts including original swivel mahogany orchestra chairs, photographs, and the architects' design logs.

Above all, Friedman wants to see the palace's ornate architecture and decor preserved. He is convinced that this can be accomplished regardless of what type of plan is eventually advanced. "You can create multiplexes in the adjoining space above and beside the dome of the Kings," he suggests, "without destroying the center."

There is always the possibility the theatre may be razed. Unlike many Time Square theatres, the Kings does not enjoy the protection of landmark status.

Schachter said that several business concerns have expressed interest in the Kings. Among them is Forest-City Ratner Companies, which is converting 42nd Street's Liberty, Empire, and Harris theatres into an $84 million entertainment-retail complex to include a 25-screen multiplex and Madame Tussaud's wax museum.

Changes at BAM

Meanwhile, in another part of the city's largest borough, the Brooklyn Academy of Music is undergoing changes that will effectively eliminate two performing spaces, while--it is hoped--earning the long-standing arts center increased attention.

In a far-reaching, $20-million, reconstruction project, BAM's 1,000-seat Carey Playhouse will be converted into a multi-screen cinema, while the third floor Lepercq Space will become a cafe, bookstore, and music shop featuring live jazz and cuisine by Michael Ayoub, the chef and co-owner of Park Slope's popular restaurant, Cucina.

Harvey Lichtenstein, BAM's president and executive producer, believes that the proposed changes will attract a larger and younger crowd to the academy, transforming BAM into a bustling cultural agora.

The Carey Playhouse space will house four or five small screen theatres, which primarily will showcase international and art films. In its years as a legit theatre, the playhouse presented Ingmar Bergman's production of "Madame de Sade," director Robert LePage's "Needles and Opium," and Meredith Monk's "Politics of Quiet."

"The Carey is a redundancy here," said BAM spokesman Bill Murray, "since we have a house of a similar size, the Majestic." The 900-seat Majestic Theater, located a few blocks from the academy, was restored in 1987 to accommodate Peter Brook's stage epic "The Mahabharata."

Murray added that the Lepercq Space had lately been used only for parties and rehearsals.

The renovation, which is being financed by the city, will also furnish the BAM Opera House with new seats, carpeting, and soundproof doors. The cafe and bookstore are set to open in January, the multiplex by the end of next year. The overall completion date is

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