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here be the Boston Orpheum - EXCELSIOR, YOU FATHEAD!

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December 23rd, 2008


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09:49 am - here be the Boston Orpheum
Here's my report on my visit to the Boston Orpheum on Friday. I loved the place. It's heartbreaking to see it in its current condition, all run-down and stuff, and I know that it's definitely renovatable if one had the money and time, but for now, it has the appearance of a grande dame who's seen much better days. A lot of people still love this house, however, and would do whatever they could to fix it up... if they could.

I took a lot of pictures. However, I am still trying to figure out how I can get good pictures off my new cameraphone, which unfortunately is not as Charmed as the first one was. The first one you could just hold up, take a picture, and whoa hey it turned out awesome. This new one requires a little bit of fudging and I think it has to do with the fact that it doesn't have a goddamn auto iris. You have to say NO NO NO DON'T TAKE IN SO MUCH LIGHT YOU IDJIT and unfortunately you have to manually adjust the brightness with every picture you take. This is the only reason I can explain why A. the lights in many of these shots are big blobs of luminescene and B. the camera was all "OH GOD I NEED TO DITHER THESE COLORS INSTEAD OF JUST SHOWING THEM NICELY." Grr. The Boston Orpheum deserves much better shots than this. The backlit stained glass proscenium is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen in a theater auditorium.

Anyway, here is my set of the Orpheum when I visited on Friday, being the first time I put this new cameraphone through its paces. Here are a small portion of some of my favorites:

Boston Orpheum Ceiling Boston Orpheum aisle jog Boston Orpheum Proscenium

Boston Orpheum Boxes Boston Orpheum - Vaudeville Board Boston Orpheum Box Seats

Yes, this is the theater we'll be performing in on New Year's Eve. It's astonishing.

And here's a larger writeup on the whole experience:

I visited the Orpheum on the 19th before the big snowstorm, and had a good afternoon's worth of climbing around the place and talking with the operations manager. The house is absolutely beautiful. Original marble furnishings, gorgeous backlit stained glass proscenium, original murals, and woodwork everywhere. The ceiling is amazing, the curves a treat to view, the acoustics pretty damn impressive (I was hearing regular spoken conversations onstage from the front mezz) and the columns that help separate the box seats are very dramatic. I was most intrigued by the inset wood panels on either side of the proscenium, where the vaudeville act placards used to be displayed. The cut-out ceiling in the back of the orchestra is also unique, providing a balcony for those accessing the mezzanine. It was also absolutely fascinating to stand on stage and imagine the whole auditorium facing the other way in its original configuration.

That's the good news. The bad news is that the place is falling apart. A lot of this neglect is due to the fact that the Orpheum is now primarily a rock venue, and the audience at rock shows don't quite treat the place nicely. The (original!!) seats are a wreck, held together with duct tape and jostled off their mounts and broken in so many places, giving the front orchestra rows the appearance of a very BAD set of teeth. The lobby is trashed, given over to the sale of alcoholic beverages, and the ladies' lounge is now primarily used to hold kegs and other concessions supplies. At first glance it appears as if this theater hasn't been used in years.

Of course, the rock crowds aren't responsible for the peeling paint on the ceiling, the deterioration of the murals on the mezz/balcony walls, the crumbling plaster, or the fact that a lot of the original trim has been painted so many times over that the details are almost obscured in the layers of paint (now an odd shade of blue.) That is all the fault of Time. And some interior design decisions.

I didn't get to make it out to the alley to look at the original Music Hall walls, but I did poke around the three levels of dressing rooms backstage. Any remnants of history (names on walls, etc) have been covered over by wood panel renovations, but boy that toilet on the second floor looked original. The place is also drafty as all hell, and you can hear the birds perched outside the fire exits as plain as if they were inside. I wonder how many times those rooms have been trashed by petulant rock stars. I also wondered which rooms the Marx Bros. et al had.

I'm not sure what keeps this building from getting the same treatment the Opera House (formerly BF Keith's) got, seeing as how both are operated by LiveNation. LiveNation at least owns the Opera House and so can throw the money down for it, but the Orpheum outright is owned by another real estate company. And one of my other theories is that the Orpheum is the rock music venue and not a primarily theatrical one. Why put all that money into giving the place its glory back if you'll still have to deal with drunken crowds who have to be repeatedly told not to smoke or crowd the back aisle or do anything destructive? (The warning signs are all over the place.)

The OM would love to have the place restored. She said it was her dream from the moment she stepped up into the auditorium and looked it over for the first time. She knows it can be done with the money and the inclination, and indeed the place is not Beyond Hope. But the touring theater and movie scene in Boston is low, and two nearly 3000-seat houses so close to each other must fulfill different needs and not step on each other's toes too much if they're going to both remain financially solvent. I'm glad the Orpheum still has a purpose and has not yet gone dark (even though if you walk into the place these days, you may not be convinced that's the case.)

Still, my god. I'd love to see that gorgeous proscenium restored to its full glory.

FUN FACTS! The Orpheum was built in 1852, making it one of the oldest theater treasures in America. It was renovated in 1900 by famed theater architect Thomas Lamb, who actually turned the auditorium around 180 degrees during his redesign. Thus, the entrance you use today off Hamilton Place actually used to be the back entrance for load-ins. The original entrance off Washington Street no longer exists, and is used for retail space. So when you're sitting up in the balcony of this place, just imagine that a little over a hundred years ago, you'd be floating up in the backstage flies somewhere.

(9 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:fancycwabs
Date:December 23rd, 2008 03:47 pm (UTC)
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Lovely photos.

Hey, a new phone means another opportunity to try and fail to get the CAT TOWN THEME as a ringtone. Join the legions of seventeen (I think. Maybe just me seventeen times) who use your composition to make everyone else in the restaurant look at you funny when the phone rings!
[User Picture]
From:ron_newman
Date:December 23rd, 2008 03:49 pm (UTC)
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Other fun facts: Originally called the Boston Music Hall, this theatre was the first home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The city of Boston threatened to demolish it to extend a street, so the BSO built a new concert hall on Huntington Avenue. They intended to take the name Boston Music Hall with them, which is why you'll still see the initials 'BMH' on the stairway railings of today's Symphony Hall.

Also, the side alley leading from Winter Street to the theatre is still called Music Hall Place, over a century after the theatre lost that name.

Edited at 2008-12-24 06:18 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
From:joyeous
Date:December 23rd, 2008 04:03 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, your old cameraphone was crazy good. Like better than my Nikon good. These just seem like more typical cameraphone pics unfortunately.

So, um...(looks around). Did you see any "secret" doors? I have my clipboard ready to go.
[User Picture]
From:greenlily
Date:December 23rd, 2008 04:04 pm (UTC)
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I am the most jealous thing that ever jealoused. Do you guys need a stagehand for your NYE show? *is itching to wander around backstage of a Really Old Theater and take notes*
From:(Anonymous)
Date:December 24th, 2008 01:11 am (UTC)

Renovations

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How can they not have money to renovate? They've been collecting a "restoration fee" on every single ticket to every single event for more than 30 years.
[User Picture]
From:pushupstairs
Date:December 24th, 2008 03:18 am (UTC)
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I've been to the Orpheum once. I could tell how it used to be really awesome. The ceiling and the proscenium are definitely fantastic, even in their current state.

Unfortunately, the place needs serious and dramatic help. I only hope that someone with the power to do so actually realizes this, because my one experience there was so bad that I won't go back. The show I saw was actually fantastic, but the awfulness of the venue almost overshadows the show itself in my mind.
[User Picture]
From:ron_newman
Date:December 26th, 2008 04:26 pm (UTC)
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What was so bad about your experience there?
[User Picture]
From:redtheblue
Date:December 24th, 2008 03:36 am (UTC)
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Damn. That must be where the theater gods live. No pressure or anything.
From:mozzer10
Date:December 24th, 2008 09:34 pm (UTC)
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I love the Orpheum, it is one of my favorite places to see shows. It really is beautiful but certainly needs some work.

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