comfort gets top billing

| 01 Nov 2016 | 04:54

It felt like a family gathering.

Around 70 supporters and patrons of the York Theatre Company had gathered in the basement space’s lobby on Oct. 25 to celebrate the installation of 165 cushy new seats, many with armrests engraved with donors’ names.

And there was reason to rejoice: The upgrade had been seven years in the making.

“There are all sorts of things that crop up,” Jim Morgan, the theater’s producing artistic director, said. “It’s been a great learning experience, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”

As people filed into the East 54th Street theater, gasps of delight could be heard.

“Wow, these seats are so much nicer than the old ones!” one of the young actors from the cast of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” said.

After finding seats engraved with their names, audience members enjoyed a short performance inaugurating the improved theater experience. Excerpts from previous York Theatre productions were sung as was, appropriately, a song from its upcoming production, “A Taste of Things to Come.”

Besides being uncomfortable and imperfectly arranged, the old seats no longer adhered to the building code.

“We could’ve gotten in big trouble,” Morgan said. “Out of that we began exploring how we might be able to replace them. Then we realized that we had this wonderful grant from the Department of Cultural Affairs.”

Though theater administrators had hoped to use the money to purchase new lighting and sound equipment, they concluded that new seats were a priority. And it seems to have been worth it. According to Morgan, the new seats allow the audience to get a better view, aren’t as creaky and “really give a lift to what we do.”

Two donors, Rita and Roger Zeeman, came from Fort Lee to celebrate the installation — and to sit in the seats engraved with their names. “We like to support all of the people who would like to be on Broadway but aren’t, and who deserve to be on Broadway,” Rita Zeeman said. “It’s always good entertainment.”

Roger Zeeman, who along with his wife has been a York patron for 15 years, has particularly enjoyed their performances of “Suburb” and “Cagney,” the latter now on Broadway, as the couple had anticipated.

Morgan thanked a myriad of people who had helped the York finally get its new accommodations. One was Maggi Peyton, a longtime public servant who was working as director of arts and culture in Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer’s office when she died last week at age 82.

“This process actually began years ago with her support and inspiration, and most of all her connections that she made available to us,” Morgan said. “This whole project would not have happened without her guidance.”

Morgan added that it was Betty Cooper Wallerstein, president of the East 79th Street Neighborhood Association, who had introduced him to Peyton. Though the new seats are an improvement, it was clear that the York Theatre family would’ve kept coming to shows even if they had to sit on the floor.

Madeleine Thompson can be reached at