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Holy smokes! St. Ann’s previews new Tobacco Warehouse theater • Brooklyn Paper

Holy smokes! St. Ann’s previews new Tobacco Warehouse theater

Local royalty: Brooklyn Brewery founder Steve Hindy and his wife Ellen Foote check out St. Ann’s Warehouse’s new digs at the Tobacco Warehouse.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

It was an opening night to remember.

Edgy Dumbo performing arts venue St. Ann’s Warehouse on Tuesday raised the curtain on its biggest production yet — a massive new waterfront theater.

Culture vultures gathered at the newly refurbished Tobacco Warehouse on the edge of Brooklyn Bridge Park to get a sneak-peek of the space and catch musical performances from stars of stage and screen Alan Cumming and Cristin Milioti, former Police-man Sting, Glen Hansard of Irish band the Frames, and other big names, at the company’s annual fund-raising gala.

The theater has spent the last two years transforming the empty shell of the historic building into a performance venue. The $30-million makeover includes a 700-seat playhouse, a smaller 105-seat performance space, and an open-air public garden — all housed within the warehouse’s original Civil War-era brick walls.

The theater’s chief said the company is thrilled with its new digs.

“We love the new space, and think it’s a fantastic addition to New York City,” said St. Ann’s artistic director Susan Feldman.

St. Ann’s has operated out of various Brooklyn venues for the past 35 years, but the Tobacco Warehouse is its first permanent, purpose-built home. The company first started in 1980 at the Church of St. Ann and the Holy Trinity on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights, where it stayed for 21 years. In 2001, it moved to an old spice-milling factory warehouse at the corner of Water and Dock streets in Dumbo, then relocated nearby to the corner of Jay and Plymouth streets in 2012.

Over the years, its various iterations have hosted musical performances by Lou Reed, Nick Cave, David Bowie, and Joe Strummer, and theater shows from famed avant-garde troupe the Wooster Group, the Coen Brothers, and London’s Royal Court Theatre.

The company will officially open the new playhouse in November with a production of Shakespeare’s “Henry IV” featuring an all-female cast, including renowned British actress Harriet Walter. On the bill for next year is Tennessee Williams’s “A Streetcar Named Desire” featuring “The X-Files” star Gillian Anderson, the New York premiere of acclaimed British actor Mark Rylance’s 2013 comedy “Nice Fish,” and the latest edition of the theater’s annual boundary-pushing puppetry festival “Labapalooza!”

The recent renovation has been relatively uneventful, but the project has been a lightning rod for controversy in the past. The Tobacco Warehouse was formerly part of a federally-protected park, which the state rezoned in 2010, handing control of the building to the city, which promptly announced St. Ann’s as the new tenant. Community groups and preservationists railed against the lack of transparency in both the rezoning and the selection process and the project was stalled in court for several years, until the various parties finally settled the suit in 2012.

As part of its deal with the city, St. Ann’s will cover the costs of maintaining the space in exchange for a 30-year lease at the bargain-basement price of zero dollars, with an option for an additional 20 years.

Reach reporter Noah Hurowitz at nhurowitz@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–4505. Follow him on Twitter @noahhurowitz

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