The Shubert Organization, Inc. officially dedicated the James Earl Jones Theatre (138 West 48th Street), formerly the Cort Theatre, in a ceremony on September 12.
James Earl Jones's began in 1957 and a year later he played his first role at the Cort Theatre in Sunrise at Campobello, according to a press release. In the more than six decades since then, he has starred in 21 Broadway shows and countless screen productions, which earned him the EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Awards) distinction. Jones has appeared in 14 Broadway productions at Shubert theaters, including two at the Cort and the 2015 Broadway revival of Donald L. Coburn’s The Gin Game at the Golden Theatre, which also starred Cicely Tyson. He has also won seven Drama Desk Awards and has been awarded the National Medal of Arts and the Kennedy Center Honor. Jones more than fit the bill when The Shubert Organization set out in 2020 to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter Movement by renaming the Cort Theatre after a prominent BIPOC theater legend upon completion of a $47 million restoration and expansion of the building.
“The dedication of the James Earl Jones Theatre honors one of the most beloved Broadway and film actors of all time," said Shubert Chairman and CEO Robert E. Wankel. "It’s fitting that the renaming of this beautifully restored building also be a moment in which to recognize the tremendous contribution of BIPOC people to Broadway. Mr. Jones’s name quickly rose to the top of the Shubert Organization’s list due to his illustrious career performing in Shubert houses, his status in the Black community, and his worldwide reputation as one of the most celebrated performers to ever grace the Broadway stage.”
Unfortunately, health concerns prevented the 91-year-old from attending the official dedication ceremony, but he was able to preview the theater named in his honor the previous week. The Shubert welcomed VIP guests, including New York Mayor Eric Adams, Phylicia Rashad, Debbie Allen, Samuel L. Jackson, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, and Tamara Tunie, to the ceremony. Broadway greats Brian Stokes Mitchell and Norm Lewis delighted revelers with performances before the unveiling of the theater marquee.
The Cort Theatre was designed in the style of an 18th Century French palace and opened in 1912 to house productions by John Cort. In 1927, the Shubert brothers bought the theater, according to a release. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Shubert and Francesca Russo Architect performed extensive renovation and construction work on the 110-year-old theater. Kostow Greenwood Architects designed a new contemporary annex that expands accessibility, increases public space, adds dressing rooms and rehearsal space, and enhances the building's beauty. The relocation of the annex allows for the expansion of the stage-left wing and an upgrade of the rigging system. These renovations enhanced functionality so more modern, technically demanding productions with larger casts can be presented at the James Earl Jones Theatre.
See the red carpet photos from the dedication of the James Earl Jones Theatre below.