Regent Theatre, Melbourne
|Designation||National Trust of Australia, Victorian Heritage Register|
|Current use||musicals, opera|
When first opened on Collins Street in 15 March, 1929 as the flagship Melbourne theatre for Francis W. Thring's Regent franchise (later sold to Hoyts), the theatre had 3,250 seats, was equipped with a Wurlitzer organ and was the second largest theatre to the State Theatre. It also had a ballroom, the Plaza, in the basement.
The cinema was gutted by a fire on the 29 April, 1945 which destroyed both the auditorium and organ. The reconstructed Regent opened on 19 December, 1947, including a new organ, making it one of the last picture palaces to be built in the country.
By the 1960s, persistent rumours of the theatre's closure (and of the Plaza Theatre in the basement) forced proposals for it to be split into two cinemas. Ultimately, this was not to be, the theatre being replaced by the Hoyt's Cinema Centre in Bourke Street. The Regent Plaza Theatre is cited as one of the few cinemas adapted for Cinerama outside of North America.
The Regent was located on the site reserved for the Melbourne City Council City Square project and the council had announced intentions to acquire and demolish many of the buildings on the block from 1966.
On 1 July, 1970, Hoyts shut the doors of the Regent for the last time. The South Yarra Regent closed the same night and Ballarat location soon followed suit. The Plaza closed in November of that year. In December, 1970, an auction was held at the theatre where everything that was not bolted down was auctioned off, raising a few thousand dollars.
In response to the closure and clouds over the building's future, a "Save the Regent" committee was formed led by president Loris Webster was formed to preserve the unoccupied building and prevent its demolition by the council.
In 1974 the National Trust declined to list the theatre, claiming it was not of significance (somewhat ironically years later after threats to the building had ceased, the Trust successfully nominated the Regent and Plaza Theatres to the Victorian Heritage Register). In response to the National Trust's stance Lord Mayor Alan Douglas Whalley demanded that the Regent be demolished, presenting a report headed by Sir Roy Grounds to quell the conservationists and claiming that the Regent was not worthy of preservation in declaring that it was "not the Colosseum". The council argued that the long blank side wall of the Regent would compromise architects abilities to create grand visions for the site.
Save The Regent presented a petition of 1,800 signatures to the City Council in May 1975.
In 1977, Victorian premier Rupert Hamer stepped in to prevent demolition of the Regent by publicly declaring it a landmark and throwing official support for the retention of the building by passing legislation for its protection and offering up to $2 million in interest free loans from the state to restore and maintain it.
Over time, Melbourne's Regent had become the last remaining fully intact theatre of the Regent picture palace franchise in Australia. The Regent in Sydney was demolished in 1988 and the Regent Theatre in Brisbane had its interiors substantially altered in 1978. The Ballarat Regent Theatre was modified to become a multi-cinema complex developed in the 1990s. The cinema in Melbourne was the only one to be used as a performing arts venue. (In New Zealand the Regent Theatre, Dunedin was adapted for the performing arts in the 1970s, still functions as a cinema and retains its original 1928 interiors.)
The Melbourne building lay derelict for 26 years. Many suggestions were made during this time as to the Regent's future including demolition, redevelopment as a carpark and even as a poker machine venue. Sadly, much of the Plaza theatre's interior was gutted to make way for the City Square project, with only the ceiling remaining as an original item. However, from photos supplied by a member of the Save The Regent Theatre Committee, Ian Williams, the interior was reconstructed to its original glory.
Entrepreneur David Marinner earmarked the Regent for restoration when he established a revival movement for classical performing arts theatres in Melbourne during 1991 as part of a strategy to create a monopoly and promote the city as a performing arts capital. In a deal with Cr David Nolte Chair of the Arts and Culture Committee at the Melbourne City Council, Marriner proposed to purchase the adjacent City Square site for development of the multi-storey Westin Hotel and apartments on the condition that some of the money go towards restoring the theatre. The redevelopment took 3 years from September 1993, to its final reopening gala on August 17 1996. The Plaza Theatre was also fully and magnificently restored to its original ballroom format.
The exterior of the Regent is near identical to the now-demolished Sydney Regent theatre and is Renaissance Revival in style. The interiors are of a Rococo style.
The Regent Theatre reopened on October 26, 1996 with a production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard.
Over the years, the Regent has seen many live shows, including:
- 1996 - Sunset Boulevard (musical)
- 1997 - Fiddler on the Roof (musical)
- 1998 - Show Boat (musical)
- 1999 - Live at the Regent Theatre: July 1, 1999 (John Farnham concert)
- 2001 - Annie (musical)
- 2001 - Singin' in the Rain (musical)
- 2001 - The Wizard of Oz (musical)
- 2002 - Man of La Mancha (musical)
- 2002 - Oliver! (musical)
- 2003 - We Will Rock You (musical)
- 2004 - Melbourne International Comedy Festival Gala; APRA Music Awards; AFI Awards
- 2004 - Gone with the Wind
- 2005 - The Lion King (musical)
- 2007 - The Wizard of Oz (film with live orchestra)
- 2007 - Imperial Russian Dance Company's Flying Tzars
- 2007 - Melbourne International Comedy Festival Gala
- 2007 - Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake (ballet)
- 2007 - Priscilla Queen of the Desert - the Musical
- 2008 - Wicked (musical)
- 2010 - Cats in March
- 2010 - Fame (musical)
- 2010 - West Side Story
- 2011 - Love Never Dies (musical)
- 2012 - Annie (musical)
- 2013 - King Kong (musical) - World Premiere
- Marriner Theatres: The Regent Theatre
- Cats the musical returns to Melbourne - Herald Sun
- "Regent Theatre, Victorian Heritage Register (VHR) Number H0690, Heritage Overlay HO589". Victorian Heritage Database. Heritage Victoria.