Designed by architect Benjamin Marcus Priteca in "conservative Spanish Renaissance" style and financed by Vancouver businessman Joseph Langer, the Orpheum Theatre was for many years Canada's largest and most opulent theatre. It opened 7 Nov 1927 (its first concert was 8 Nov 1927) as a vaudeville house, and hosted performances by Charlie Chaplin, the Marx Brothers, Rudy Vallee, and others affiliated with the US-based Orpheum Circuit. Although it became a movie theatre in the 1930s (Ivan Ackery was manager 1935-69), it remained one of two halls used by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (VSO) 1930-59.
1973 - Present
By the early 1970s the Orpheum Theatre had fallen into disrepair. Redevelopment plans were made by its owners, Famous Players, and in 1973 a campaign to convert the theatre into a permanent concert hall was spearheaded by the Community Arts Council of Vancouver and mayor Art Phillips. With federal, provincial, and private support, the city purchased the theatre for $3.9 million in March 1974. It was restored to its original grandeur in 1976 by Vancouver architects Thompson, Berwick, and Pratt, and reopened 2 Apr 1977 as a civic concert hall and the home of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. The inaugural concert featured the VSO and Maureen Forrester under conductor Kazuyoshi Akiyama.
During restoration, the stage was extended (reducing seating by about 100) and the fly system and stage curtains removed to make way for a permanent orchestra shell. Other adjustments were made by acoustician Theodore J. Schultz (of Bolt, Beranek and Newman Inc, New York) to accommodate the sound of the orchestra, including a system of microphones and speakers (creating some controversy) to distribute the sound evenly throughout the hall. The new acoustics were praised by Gerald Jarvis, then concertmaster of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, for "a European sound, a warm, generous sound quite different from the clinical sound of many North American concert halls" (Toronto Star, 4 Apr 1977). The theatre's Wurlitzer organ, once used to accompany silent films, is maintained in playing condition and has been used occasionally in recital and with the orchestra and for a recording by Patrick Wedd (CBC MVCD-1019). In 1983 a new foyer, Westcoast Hall, was added.
The Orpheum Theatre remains one of Canada's largest concert halls. It presents a variety of classical and popular concerts, and has been the main venue for the Vancouver Bach Choir, the Vancouver Cantata Singers, the Vancouver Chamber Choir, and the Vancouver Recital Society. In celebration of the Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad, it hosted performances by Canadian musicians Feist, K'NAAN, Joel Plaskett, and Stars.
The Orpheum Theatre has been designated a national historic site.
Author Revised: Sarah Church
Read, Jeani. "How the Orpheum was saved from a fate worse than death," Maclean's, 4 Apr 1977
"The Orpheum - regal lady on review," VSO, vol 1, Sep 1977
"History of Orpheum Theatre," Bravo, vol 4, no 18, Mar-Apr 1986
"Let the clapping continue . . . ," UBC Alumni Chronicle, vol 41, no 1, Spring 1987
Baker, Carol. "Vancouver's grand and gracious Orpheum," Toronto Globe and Mail, 9 Apr 1988
Giddings, Philip. "The Vancouver Orpheum Theatre: Renovating for the future," Professional Sound, vol 6, no 3, Fall 1995
Hammett-Vaughan, Kate. "We'll meet again: The Orpheum in the 40's," Allegro, no 2, Nov-Dec 1995/Feb 1996
"Big bands and BC's best celebrate the Orpheum's 70th birthday," Playboard, vol 32, no 7, Dec 1997
Davis, Chuck. "A palace of entertainment: Vancouver's Orpheum turns 57," British Columbia Historical News, vol 36, no 2, Spring 2003
Links to Other Sites
Greater Vancouver Professional Theatre Alliance
The website for the Greater Vancouver Professional Theatre Alliance. Offers information about Vancouver theatre venues and programs.
Community Arts Council of Vancouver
The Community Arts Council of Vancouver promotes heritage preservation and the development of the city's lively cultural community. Their website offers the latest cultural news and links to a variety of galleries, theatres, and related organizations.
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