Broadway's Cort Theatre will be re-named the James Earl Jones Theatre when it re-opens following extensive renovations later this year. The change, made by The Shubert Organization in recognition of Jones' long Broadway career, will establish the theatre as the second in Broadway history to be named for a person of color. A formal dedication ceremony is planned for when the theatre reopens later this year.
The move will place Jones' name on the theatre where he made his Broadway debut in 1958 in Sunrise at Campobello.
“For me standing in this very building 64 years ago at the start of my Broadway career, it would have been inconceivable that my name would be on the building today,” said Jones in a statement. “Let my journey from then to now be an inspiration for all aspiring actors.”
Jones has gone on to follow Sunrise at Campobello with a more than five-decades-long career on the Main Stem, winning his first Tony Award in 1969 for his performance as boxer Jack Jefferson in The Great White Hope, a performance he would reprise for the 1970 film adaptation. He would win another Tony in 1987 creating the role of Troy Maxson in the original Broadway production of August Wilson's Fences, also appearing in Paul Robeson, Of Mice and Men, "Master Harold" ...and the Boys, On Golden Pond, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Driving Miss Daisy, The Best Man, You Can't Take it With You, and The Gin Game.
Though much of his career has been on the stage, Jones is also a mainstay of the big screen, often lending his iconic voice to voice over and narration projects, most notably voicing Darth Vader in the Star Wars franchise and Mufasa in both the 1994 and 2019 versions of Disney's The Lion King.
Jones' career accolades include a Lifetime Achievement Tony Award, seven Drama Desk Awards, the National Medal of Arts, and a Kennedy Center Honor.
“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,” shares Shubert CEO and board chair Robert E. Wankel in a statement. “That James deserves to have his name immortalized on Broadway is without question.”
The name change comes as the 110-year-old venue readies to unveil the results of a major expansion and renovation, with construction expected to complete this summer. As announced last year, the building will receive a newly constructed wing off the building's western face with a grand staircase, elevator, accessible bathrooms, concession areas, lounge, dressing rooms, and rehearsal space, all designed by Kostow Greenwood Architects. The existing structure will receive a refurbished facade, expanded wing space, modernized rigging, and new seating to enhance comfort and accessibility, though the theatre's capacity will remain unchanged.
The Shuberts hope the improvements will allow the theatre to present more modern and technically challenging productions. The original proscenium arch will also be restored, including black-lit art glass set in ornamental plaster lattice. The original structure's restoration is being led by architect Francesca Russo, who has restored several other Shubert houses over the past 25 years.
Built in 1912, the Cort Theatre on West 48th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues is one of Broadway's most intimate houses. The historic theatre has been home to such recent productions as Glenda Jackson in King Lear, Indecent, Bright Star, and No Man's Land/Waiting For Godot, with its longest tenant being The Magic Show from 1974 to 1978. The theatre was named for John Cort, a Seattle-based theatre manager who owned the building before the Shubert brothers acquired it in 1927. The facade is inspired by the Petit Trianon at Versailles.