Miranda deus ex machina: Famed playwright saves Drama Book Shop

Lin-Manuel Miranda is now a part owner of the Drama Book Shop.

BY RICO BURNEY | The Drama Book Shop, which was slated to close at the end of the month due to rent hikes, was given new life on Tuesday when it was announced that the store has been purchased by Grammy-, Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning actor and playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda of “Hamilton” fame.

Manuel is joined in his purchase by “Hamilton”’s director, Thomas Kail, and producer, Jeffrey Seller, and James L. Nederlander, the president of the Nederland Organization, which owns nine Broadway theaters.

The bookstore, which has been in operation since 1917 and has been at its 5,000-square-foot space at 250 W. 40th St. between Seventh and Eighth Aves. since 2001, will still close its doors on Jan. 20, as originally announced in October, after the store’s landlord increased the rent from $18,000 to $30,000.

However, the shop’s new owners and The Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, which is helping the new proprietors find a more affordable site for the store in the Theater District, plan to announce a fall reopening date for the new location soon.

In addition to being a patron since he was a teenager, Miranda previously helped the shop recover from disaster in 2016 when he pitched in to raise funds after a burst pipe destroyed 30 percent of the store’s inventory.

The Drama Book Shop, currently on W. 23rd St., had been set to close before the end of this month after the rent became unaffordable for the former owners. Photo by Winnie McCroy

The New York Times reported that the store’s longtime owner, Rozanne Seelen, sold the place to Miranda and company for the price of the shop’s remaining rent and current inventory, plus a promise to keep her onboard as a consultant.

“I’m 84 years old — I just didn’t have the drive to find a new space and make another move… . Lin-Manuel and Tommy are my white knights,” she told The Times.

The Drama Book Shop, which was awarded an honorary Tony Award in 2011, is considered by many in the theater community to be an invaluable institution that, in addition to having one of the largest selections of plays in the nation, also houses a black-box theater used by many artists, including Kail earlier in his career.

“My first experiences directing in New York City were at the Arthur Seelen Theater in the basement of the Drama Book Shop,” Kail said in a statement. “Thanks to the generosity of owners Allen Hubby and Rozanne Seelen, I had a small theater company that was in residence there for five years. I am delighted to be part of this group that will ensure the Drama Book Shop lives on.”

Reactions to the purchase from the theater community were almost unanimously positive, with some, such as “Once on This Island” director Michael Arden going as far as to call Manuel a “hero” online.

Director and playwright Nina Kauffman raised more than $10,000 for the store through GoFundMe back in October.

“I am so thrilled about the Drama Book Shop being purchased,” she said. “It just goes to show how important this place is to New York City and beyond. Now it can remain a staple rather than simply being a legacy.”

Miranda could not immediately be reached for comment. Former store owner Seelen said they have “limited access” to the famous playwright right now because he is busy working on “Hamilton Puerto Rico,” which is opening this Friday in San Juan.