Curran operated another theatre with his name for several years prior to building the current theatre; however, the original Curran Theatre had various names before and after this time whereas the current theatre has never had another name. It has been claimed that the current theatre's design is based on six different Broadway houses. It opened in February 1922 and was initially considered a Shubert house. Later, it was a showcase for Theatre Guild presentations. Subsequently, it became closely associated with the Civic Light Opera (CLO) which also operated in Los Angeles. The CLO obtained numerous prestigious bookings as well as producing their own shows (often with star names as the leads).
Curran is also noted for writing the book for the musical Song of Norway and co-writing the book for the less-successful Magdalena. He eventually left San Francisco for southern California where he rented theatrical lighting.
The ceiling above the main lobby is notable because it was handpainted to look like wood (steel wool was used to fashion a wood grain in the plaster before painting). The main lobby has a marble floor but has long since been covered by carpeting. It is less comfortable to stand on marble, became slippery when it rained, and also made the lobby colder. There are "plugs" built into the lobby floor in which to insert stanchions from which theatre ropes were hung to section off the lobby. It is claimed that its neon sign was the first in San Francisco (which replaced the original Curran sign consisting of lightbulbs). The loge section was modified prior to Hello, Dolly!'s first booking at the theatre. Originally, the loge section was similar to the boxes with moveable chairs in sectioned areas. The box-like loges are still evident by what remains of the metal railings in front of the loge section as well as the decorative plaster when viewed from below. The change was made because it increased the seating capacity by about 10 seats in this highly desirable area. The interior main floor lobby no longer exists. Originally, it was changed to a minor degree to accommodate the installation of a sound booth without decreasing the Orchestra seating capacity. Eventually, the lobby space was used to install a larger bar area as well as handicap accessible restrooms.
Up until the mid-1990s, the auditorium used to be much more illuminated. There are two murals in the auditorium that are little-noticed without the enhanced lighting. Both rise from the lower mezzanine level on each side.
The theatre has two front curtains: the decorative green fire curtain in front of a gold curtain. When musicals traditionally utilized each theatre's front curtains, the first curtain would be raised five minutes prior to the start of the show. There were two coat check rooms: one off to the south of the main floor interior lobby and the other on the balcony (adjacent the ladies' restroom). There were also two telephone "booths" on the mezzanine lobby—one on each side of the windows. These booths were actually very small rooms with formal doors. The coat check rooms and telephone booths are now used for storage. The theatre also had a central vacuum system. This system is still evident by the connection points on the walls, near the floor. The chandelier was built in San Francisco (by a company that used to be on Mission Street). There is a plaque honoring Arthur Mayer mounted at the entrance to boxes L-M-N. Mayer watched the theatre being built, was hired by Curran as part of the theatre's opening night staff, and continued working at the theatre until he was nearly 100-years-old.
For many years, the San Francisco Opera performed their annual "Spring Opera" series at the Curran.
In 1977, the Civic Light Opera shifted its operations to the Orpheum Theatre and, by the end of that year, Carole Shorenstein Hays and James M. Nederlander took over the operation of the Curran and launched their Best of Broadway season starting with John Raitt in the national tour of Shenandoah and including the west coast debut of Annie. Later, Shorenstein, a Tony award winning producer, changed the name of her organization, SHN (theatres), and has operated the Curran as the premier theatre destination on the West Coast.
In the 1950s, the theatre was used for the interior and exterior scenes of a Broadway theatre in the movie All About Eve. The original main floor interior lobby can be seen in this film. All the theatre scenes were filmed at the Curran except for the dressing room interior. The television series, The Streets of San Francisco, filmed an episode inside and outside the Curran. In the program, the Curran is used as the setting for A.C.T. In reality, A.C.T. operates at the adjacent Geary Theatre which is also visible in some shots. Luminaries such as Lenny Bruce, Mary Martin, Katharine Hepburn, Rex Harrison, Richard Taylor, Ian McKellen, Florence Henderson, Angela Lansbury, Mae West, Dorothy Loudon, Richard Kiley, Sally Ann Howe, Keene Curtis, Victor Garber, Laurence Luckinbill, Lucie Arnaz, Patti LaBelle, Rob Marshall, Georgia Brown, Ben Harney, Smothers Brothers, Jane Connell, Ricardo Montalbán, Werner Klemperer, Ethel Waters, Jean Fenn, Agnes Moorehead, Herb Edelman, Matthew Broderick, Joyce Van Patten, Elizabeth Franz, Jonathan Silverman, Željko Ivanek, Marcel Marceau, Ann Miller, Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Joel Grey, Florence Lacey, Ron Holgate, Lee Roy Reams, Paxton Whitehead, Ann Jillian, Leslie Uggams, Andrea McArdle, Mary Alice, Jack Lemmon, Estelle Parsons, Stacy Keach, Maxwell Caulfield, James Earl Jones, Karen Valentine, Brian Dennehy, Al Pacino, Amanda Plummer, Elizabeth Ashley, Mercedes McCambridge, Stockard Channing, Judith Light and many other stars have played at the Curran. Carol Channing not only played the Curran on multiple occasions but also claimed it is where she saw first saw a stage show.
Broadway national tours have played at the Curran Theatre throughout its history. As operated by SHN (theatres), The Curran hosted five years of Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera, becoming the show's longest run within the US outside of NYC. Other significant long runs presented by SHN (theatres) at the Curran include Les Misérables, Jersey Boys, They're Playing Our Song, as well as Lily Tomlin in Jane Wagner's The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe. In 2003, the musical Wicked originated at the Curran with Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel before opening on Broadway. In 2006, A Chorus Line began its current revival at the Curran. This was especially fitting because after A Chorus Line first opened on Broadway in 1975, the very first touring company launched at the Curran with nearly all of the original principal cast members. Over the years, the show returned to the Curran for numerous successful runs.
In recent years, highlights of Broadway shows presented by SHN (Theatres) at The Curran include: The national tour of the Tony Award-winning musical Spring Awakening in September 2008; The national tour of RENT starring Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp for a two-week engagement in 2009.
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