Orpheum Theatre (Memphis)
|Address||203 South Main Street|
|City||Memphis, Tennessee, USA|
|Owned by||Memphis Development Foundation|
|Type||Performing arts center|
|Other names||The Malco|
|Location||197 South Main Street|
|Architect||C.W. Rapp and George L. Rapp|
|NRHP Reference #||77001289|
|Added to NRHP||August 15, 1977|
The Orpheum Theatre, located on South Main Street at Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee, USA, was built in 1928 and is one of the few remaining "movie palaces" of the 1920s. The theatre presents a variety of events from Broadway shows and concerts to films. A $4.7 million renovation in the 1980s included refurbishing of ornamental plasterwork, crystal chandeliers and original furnishings plus remodeling of backstage and technical areas. It seats 2,400.
The Orpheum Theatre has survived several financial bankruptcies, a devastating fire, and the threat of demolition for the construction of an office complex. However, the Orpheum, called the "South's Finest Theatre" rose above all this and now is a premiere performing arts center for the Mid-South.
In 1890 The Grand Opera House was built on the corner of Main and Beale Street. The Grand was billed as the classiest theatre outside of New York City. Vaudeville was the main source of entertainment at the time. The Grand became part of the Orpheum Vaudeville circuit in 1907, and was renamed the Orpheum Theatre.
Vaudeville at the Orpheum was successful for almost two decades. Then in 1923, after a show that featured the singer Blossom Seeley, a fire started and the theatre burned to the ground.
Building a new Orpheum
In 1928, at a cost of $1.6 million, a new Orpheum was built on the original site of The Grand, but it was a different theater. The new Orpheum is twice as large as her predecessor and is beautifully decorated. A few decorations include lavish tasseled brocade draperies, enormous crystal chandeliers, gilded moldings and a large Wurlitzer pipe organ. The Orpheum was purchased by the Malco movie theater chain in 1940 and presented first run movies.
The Haunted Theater
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There are two purported ghosts that reside in the Orpheum Theatre. People claim to see a ghost in the Memphis Orpheum: her name is Mary and she is 9 years old. Some say that Mary was killed when struck by a trolley in front of the theater. Employees hear doors slam and see lights flicker as they leave, probably Mary telling them goodbye. Additionally, there are rumors about blood on the seat C-5 where she supposedly likes to sit, though these rumors are clearly false. Mary is supposedly not a mean ghost, rather one of the friendliest ghosts one will ever see/meet/hear of. She wears a white dress and has pigtails.
The second rumor of a ghost in the Orpheum Theatre is that of a masked figure that resides in the air ducts above the house. The nameless ghost is known to stretch its brown arm out of the molding that covers the opening in the air duct, and wave at audience members during performances. Many who claim to have seen this ghost have admitted they thought they saw brown lint and fluff that was somehow stuck in the duct and was blowing through with the air.
In 1976, Malco decided to sell the building, and there was talk of demolishing the old theater to build an office complex. However, in 1977, the Memphis Development Foundation purchased The Orpheum and began bringing Broadway productions and concerts back to the theatre.
After 54 years, The Orpheum was closed on Christmas in 1982 to begin a $5 million renovation to restore The Theatre to its 1928 opulence. A grand reopening celebration was held in January 1984 and it signaled the rebirth of entertainment in downtown Memphis.
The Orpheum, which is managed by the Memphis Development Foundation, presents two seasons of Broadway tours. In fact, on an average annual basis, The Orpheum has presented more Broadway touring productions than any other theater in the country.
In addition to bringing the finest Broadway Productions to the area, a wide array of entertainers have graced the Orpheum's stage.
Two of Memphis' local arts groups, Ballet Memphis and Opera Memphis, also call The Orpheum home. Ballet Memphis also holds performances at Playhouse on the Square while as The Orpheum Theatre becomes more and more of a "road-house" for Broadway productions on tour.
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