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DID you know that Marlon Brando once broke his nose while boxing in the alley outside the Barrymore Theatre during a performance of "A Streetcar Named Desire?" That the Music Box is half-owned by the estate of the late composer Irving Berlin? That the Imperial is considered the "luckiest house" on Broadway, thanks to its having been the home to so many long-running hits?

These are just a few of the tantalizing tidbits revealed in "Broadway Open House." No, it's not the latest smash hit on stage, but a two-hour "insider's" walking tour through the Theater District that offers hidden secrets for theater veterans and novices alike.

And you can even get inside a theater or two during the tour without shelling out the going rate of $100 for tickets (of course, the stage will be empty).

Although the specific theaters presented on the tour vary, recent offerings were the St. James, home to "The Producers," and the Al Hirschfeld, currently occupied by the revival of "Sweet Charity."

Both theaters, built in the 1920s, are highly historic. The former, designed by the same architectural firm that created Grand Central Terminal, was a particular favorite of the songwriting team of Rodgers and Hammerstein, who insisted that it be used for the premieres of such legendary musicals as "Oklahoma!" and "The King and I." The latter, with its gorgeous Byzantine-style architecture, was renamed only recently for the legendary theater caricaturist. It contains an upstairs gallery of original works by the artist that is normally accessible only to ticket-holding theatergoers.

Throughout the tour, one's attention is brought to things even the most eagle-eyed pedestrian can miss. These include the comedy/tragedy gargoyles adorning the Lunt-Fontanne; the diminutive shoeprints of actress Helen Hayes in the sidewalk in front of the theater that bears her name; and the elaborate mural depicting various theater greats adjoining the Marriott Marquis Hotel.

Luckily, the tour is conducted in the light of day - so the several ghost stories revealed aren't quite as chilling as they might be in the dark.

Ethel Merman supposedly roams the Imperial, where she played in "Call Me Madame" and "Annie Get Your Gun," and legendary producer David Belasco haunts the environs of his eponymous theater, although the priggish spirit did depart in a huff for several years when the occupant was "Oh! Calcutta!"

Through the end of the year, "Broadway Open House'' departs from the Broadway Ticket Center in the Times Square Information Center on the East side of Broadway between 46th and 47th streets, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 10 a.m. Tickets ($25) are available at the box office, by phone (212) 239-6200, and online at

Copyright 2004 NYP Holdings, Inc. All rights reserved.

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