A new movie starring Al Pacino as a washed-up actor was partly shot at a grand old theater on Staten Island with an interesting history.
Pacino performs several scenes in “The Humbling” on the stage of the St. George Theatre, which is about a half-mile from where Staten Island’s famous ferries cruise past the Statue of Liberty to Lower Manhattan.
In one scene shot at the St. George, Pacino throws himself off the stage into the audience; in another, he has a confrontation with an old friend, played by Dianne Wiest, in the orchestra.
The theater has been used as a film set in other movies, such as “The School of Rock” and for TV shows including “Gossip Girl,” “Gotham” and “Smash.”
“Film crews like our location since it is under the radar but yet still in New York City,” said Wayne Miller, the theater’s executive director. “Certainly, an actor of Al Pacino’s renown could not film an outdoor scene near a public street without a mob, and yet he filmed a scene in our stage door alley with no gathering of paparazzi.”
Chellsey Cruz, a spokeswoman for the movie, said the St. George was chosen because “it’s grand enough to feel like Broadway” without the difficulty and expense of shooting on Broadway. She added that director Barry Levinson “loved the look of it visually.”
The St. George Theatre opened in 1929 as a movie-and-vaudeville house that featured live performers like Al Jolson, Kate Smith and Guy Lombardo. Its grand interior is decorated in a Spanish-Italian baroque style with ornate chandeliers, balconies with cast-iron railings, ceilings and walls covered in intricate gold-leaf and plaster designs. One wall is covered with a mural of a bullfight.
Film scouts like the theater because “it has a ‘wow’ factor that has a history behind it. It’s unique and magnificent,” said Doreen Cugno, president of St. George Theatre Restoration.
The theater showed movies until 1977. Over the next few decades, efforts to operate it as a roller rink, nightclub and antiques showroom failed. In 2004, it was taken over by a not-for-profit organization founded by Cugno’s mother, Rosemary Cappozalo. It now hosts headliners like Tony Bennett and Jerry Seinfeld as well as local events like graduations. The theater is temporarily closed for renovations but will reopen this spring.
The neighborhood around the theater is likely to get a boost when a massive Ferris wheel opens on the nearby waterfront, part of a complex of shops and other attractions. Groundbreaking for the New York Wheel is expected this year.