The New Amsterdam Theater is one of the most glorious New York theaters, neglected for decades, triumphantly returned to life in 1997 following a breath-taking restoration. Built in 1903 by Herts & Tallant, the New Amsterdam became the largest theatre in New York, which could seat up to 1800 people. The first performance of the theater was Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Nights Dream" in November of 1903. Later the New Amsterdam housed a variety of plays and musicals "She stoops to Conquer", George M. Cohan's "Forty-five Minutes from Broadway", and "The Merry Widow". In 1913, the New Amsterdam became the home of the Ziegfeld Follies. The Follies attracted many of the greatest Broadway actors and actresses to the New Amsterdam: Leon Errol, Bert Williams, Fanny Brice, Will Rogers, and W.C. Fields. On the roof of the New Amsterdam Theatre there was a unique stage. While it was not unusual to have a small stage on the roof of a theatre, most rooftop stages contained no more than a platform that served as a simple stage and were only useable in warm weather. They were more like gardens than theatres. The New Amsterdam had a complete miniature theatre that could be used all year, although it was only used in the summer months. On the rooftop, primarily variety shows were presented. A variety of revues and musical comedies was produced in the rooftop theatre, which was renamed Danse de Follies in 1914 and the Frolic Theatre in 1923.
Years of decay - the flooded orchestra pit was home to an 8-ft tree complete with birds' nests-had left the theater in structural and aesthetic ruins. In 1936, the New Amsterdam was closed. The rooftop theatre was reopened the next year as the home for radio purposes and soon the theater was transformed into a movie theatre. Only in the 1980's the Netherlanders, who were the owners of the theater, proposed to renovate the theatre. With the backing of its new tenant, the Walt Disney Company, the 1814-seat Art Nouveau Theater was painstakingly restored by Hardy, Hoizman, Pfeiffer, the New York firm that also rehabilitated the New Victory Theater, Radio City Music Hall, and Bryant Park. An estimated restoration cost $34 million. The grand reopening of the New Amsterdam took place in May of 1997, with a concert staging of King David. In 1998 a stage version of the highly successful full-length cartoon The Lion King was presented at The New Amsterdam. The architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable called the theater "a magical place from the elaborate peacock proscenium arch to the nymphet heads illuminating columns with halos of incandescent lights".