Harvey Lichtenstein, the theatre administrator who oversaw the rebirth of the Brooklyn Academy of Music in the late 20th century, died February 11 at his home in New York. He was 87.
He took over management of the arts center, known to New York theatregoers as just “BAM,” in 1967 when the 1908 building was crumbling and stood in a run-down section of the Fort Green neighborhood that few of its potential customers wanted to visit.
Over the next 32 years of his tenure there as executive producer he oversaw a renaissance of the theatre (and, eventually, the neighborhood), making it such a fashionable cultural mecca that fans of music, theatre, and dance from Manhattan and other parts of the metropolitan area joined local Brooklyn fans in flocking to its attractions. He retired in 1999 and reportedly has been in ill health.
The Brooklyn Academy of Music was founded in 1861 and began operating in its current theatre building in 1908.
Dozens of landmark theatre productions were presented under his aegis including original works by Robert Wilson, Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson, Peter Brook, Pina Bausch, Peter Sellars, Ingmar Bergman, Merce Cunningham, Lee Breuer, and Steve Reich.
Lichtenstein also was the father of the annual BAM Next Wave Festival, founded in 1983, which continues to offer experimental and avant garde productions from around the world each fall.
Lichtenstein’s artistic stewardship eventually extended to several other allied Brooklyn arts venues, including the nearby Brooklyn Majestic Theatre, which has since been renamed the BAM Harvey Lichtenstein Theater in his honor. On the occasion of Lichtenstein’s retirement, President Bill Clinton awarded him the National Medal of Arts.
Publicist Adrian Bryan-Brown posted the following on his Facebook page: “So many of us have been influenced and inspired by Harvey Lichtenstein's taste and enterprise. Condolences to his friends and family on his passing. The man was a supreme cultural curator bringing the greatest contemporary performing arts from around the world to New York, serving, for me personally as a gateway to the work of Pina Bausch, Philip Glass, Peter Brook, Laurie Anderson, Robert Wilson, the Flying Karamazov Brothers and so many more, as well as providing a home for some for my favorite nights ever in theatre with productions like Richard Eyre's staging of Shakespeare's Richard III with Ian McKellen, Mark Morris' The Hard Nut, and Lou Reed and John Cale’s Songs for Drella. We cannot thank him or miss him enough.”