Orpheum Theatre

1 Hamilton Place,
Boston, MA 02108

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Showing 51 - 75 of 138 comments

SgtPickles on March 12, 2009 at 9:52 am

I am very interested in Boston’s theatre history and have gained great knowledge and insight from what people share on this site- so thanks! Wanted to say that I’ve been to the Orpheum twice, once around 2001-2002 for a Pet Shop Boys concert and then again last night for a Hall & Oates concert. Last night I was seated in Row O of the scary Orpheum balcony and got to view up close the once-magnificent architectural details of the place, the procenium and some (what I guess) were huge beautiful murals flanking either side of the building. Sadly, the murals are barely visible under a layer of dirt and grime and the layers of dark paint are peeling in huge chunks from the ceiling and walls. While I am so happy that this gem is still open, the place is quite dirty and disgusting. I’ve heard many stories about the Orpheum balcony being quite unsafe, friends even telling me they’ve felt it move under their feet, which wouldn’t surprise me.

MPol on March 11, 2009 at 8:43 pm

Did I mention that I saw Gordon Lightfoot at the Orpheum in concert roughly 23 years ago? He was excellent.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on March 11, 2009 at 8:10 pm

View link lists scheduled concerts. The venue review at the bottom of the page is fun.

gd14lawn on March 11, 2009 at 2:52 pm

I was at the Orpheum theater website earlier and it said no shows were scheduled for this venue. Perhaps I had an incorrect web site. If so, sorry!

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on March 11, 2009 at 2:07 pm

Who says Live Nation has pulled out of the Orpheum? They have a Hall & Oates concert scheduled there tonight.

gd14lawn on March 11, 2009 at 2:04 pm

You can’t blame Live Nation for pulling out of the Orpheum. Last time I was there (about 2 years ago) it was the most decrepit venue I had ever been in. When the organ player blasted away at his Hammond B-3, a chunk of plaster fell out of the ceiling onto the stage. You can see where it must have been breattakingly beautiful in it’s day but that day is long past. It has always seemed to be a busy venue but no money was ever reinvested and even basic cleaining wasn’t done. Amazing what greedy people will do to a treasure such as the Orpheum.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on February 13, 2009 at 11:31 am

The 2,400 capacity for the new House of Blues music hall is the limit of number of patrons who can be admitted. The only fixed seating will be in the balcony. The capacity is almost as high as the Orpheum.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on February 13, 2009 at 11:12 am

> Well, don’t most theater balconies have stadium seating by default?

No. For instance, I don’t think either the Somerville’s or the Brattle’s balconies would be considered ‘stadium seating’.

Also, I believe there will be no seats on the main floor of House of Blues, only standing/dancing area.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on February 13, 2009 at 11:04 am

The Boston Herald today has an article on the new Boston House of Blues which is set to open very soon. It’s located on Lansdowne Street near Fenway Park in uptown Boston. Central to this club is its music hall which has a capacity of 2,400 and includes a balcony with “stadium seating”. (Well, don’t most theater balconies have stadium seating by default?) Live Nation owns it and already has 57 attractions booked into it within the next few months. They have only 6 attractions booked into the Orpheum. The article is headed “New House of Blues fills Hub club void” and is written by Jeb Gottlieb. He suggests in it that the days of the Orpheum Theatre downtown may be numbered.

rnoyes on January 21, 2009 at 1:10 pm

Oh yeah, the fifth floor is still unfinished and contains a bunch of old junk-like stuff. I don’t remember seeing any organ pipes, tho, cause I would’ve taken pictures like a madman.

There were some telltale cigarette butts and empty packs around an open window, though. Hooray for the rules applying only to -some- people!

tmclaughlin79 on January 18, 2009 at 7:40 pm

I have some intimate knowledge of the Orpheum. My dad was the head of house maintenance for most of the 90s (head being relative as he had 1-2 guys below him, and sometimes that guy was me). It took a lot just to keep it running. It was cool to be able to see almost every aspect of the building, though I never went into the service area in the ceiling. Didn’t like the possibility of a long drop should there be a structural deficiency.

To answer a few questions: the building is owned by the Druker Company while the theatre is operated by LN. As far as the projection booth is concerned, last time I was there (a long time ago) the equipment was not in working condition. Whether that has changed I don’t know.

R. Noyes – My dad would be burning up at hearing about the condition of the seats. That was his biggest pet peeve while he was there. He actually ordered seats from a former theatre in Vermont just so he had the parts to fix them, even though they would fall apart anyway. He once had to fix a seat in the front row while Bob Dylan was performing, and managed to draw Mr. Zimmerman’s scorn because he now had to sing over power tools! But those seats would be fixed!

I wonder if the 5th floor of the backstage is still the way I last saw it. Last time I was up there, it was all beer bottles and organ pipes. So many stories, so little space.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on December 26, 2008 at 6:47 am

When you were touring the Orpheum, did you happen to notice whether the theatre still has a working projection booth?

rnoyes on December 26, 2008 at 6:40 am

Thank you very much for helping clear up for me when Lamb went in and did his stuff, Ron. I’ve updated my introductory text on that gallery with the information.

And I’m glad to know the Orpheum can still look good in the right light (and resolution). :)

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on December 23, 2008 at 11:07 am

Ian- regarding the shoe store on Washington Street in the former Orpheum lobby entrance. Many times in the 1980s and 1990s, when walking past it on cloudy days with no sunlight outside,if the rear door was open I could clearly see the original marble stairs leading up to the Orpheum foyer; they used those steps to hold rows of shoe boxes. R. Noyes- you need not apoligize for the quality of your recent photos- they are very nice and, if anything, make the Orpheum look good ! A few corrections to your text. The Orpheum never had more than 3000 seats even when it was new. Thomas Lamb was in charge of the 1915-16 reconstruction, and by that time the stage had already been moved to the north end of the building – that happened during the construction work in the summer of 1900. He designed the entire interior as it appears today, as well as an entire new west wall, the side of the building nearest to Tremont St. (The Orpheum auditorium is wider than the Music Hall auditorium). As for ownership, I think that it is owned by the Druker Company, but I’m not sure of that.

IanJudge on December 23, 2008 at 7:33 am

Nice photos, cameraphone or not. If you have the chance, see what remains of the old projection booth up behind the lighting booth.

The old lobby entrance on Washington Street is now an Aldo shoe store; I knew someone who worked there and he said in the back/storage room the marble stairs to the Orpheum are still there.

The Orpheum seems to be stuck in a place where it is not cost-efficient for the landlord to spend the money to renovate, and the tenant does not feel the need to push for anything like that. It is a mediocre middle ground, but it beats being knocked down for condos (like the Pilgrim) or knocked down for a vacant lot (like the Publix/Gaiety.)

rnoyes on December 23, 2008 at 7:01 am

Ron, you’re right about the ownership issue. D'oh. I misspoke there. I remember the OM giving the name of the real estate maven who owns the Orpheum building outright, but I can’t remember the name. I’ll ask when I go back.

Here’s my set of Orpheum pictures from Friday. Again, I apologize for the crummy cameraphone pictures, but I’m still learning how to use this new camera which doesn’t appear to have an auto-iris like the last one did.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on December 22, 2008 at 11:45 am

R. Noyes- glad that you had such a productive visit. If you think that the Orpheum still looks beautiful today, you should have seen it when it was a Loew house, up until the mid-1960s. It was kept in very good condition inside, and even had carpeting. There was, of course, a seperate entrance downstairs on Washington Street. One difference between the Opera House and the Orpheum- Live Nation owns and operates the Opera House, but they only manage the Orpheum; as far as I know it is owned by a large realty company.

rnoyes on December 22, 2008 at 8:21 am

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 primarly 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.)

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 owned and operated by LiveNation. One of my 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. I’m putting my pictures up on Flickr now and will post a link to the full photo set, but I will mention that I’m using a new cameraphone for my pictures and so far its capabilities stink on ice. Still, cruddy pics are better than no pics.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on December 9, 2008 at 10:55 am

R. Noyes – while you’re there backstage at the Orpheum, go out to the alleys in back. Stand back and look at the rear stage wall – it’s the original wall from the 1852 Boston Music Hall. Note the old cornice high up, and also the 3 bricked-up semi-circle windows. All original. Go around to the pedestrian alley off Winter St. and you can see the south wall composed of dull-orange brick. It’s also orignal from 1852. So both the north (stage) and south walls are 1852 originals on the exterior. The wings at stage-right and the tall loading door there date from the 1916 reconstruction. You should keep in mind that in the Boston Music Hall the concert platform was at the south end of the building; the stage was constructed in the north end of the building in 1900 when the place was converted into a vaudeville theater.

rnoyes on December 8, 2008 at 12:07 pm

I’m directing a show that’ll go up in the Orpheum on New Year’s Eve as a part of First Night, and you can bet I’m definitely interested in taking a look all around the place while we’re there for our load-in and tech runs. Hearing that it’s in sad shape kind of makes me sad, but I’m real curious about backstage more'n anything. Will bring pix.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on December 1, 2008 at 10:48 am

I recently talked with a gal from Jamaica Plain who told me that she had attended a performance at the Orpheum of a folkloric dance troupe from Brazil and that she was shocked at the condition of the Orpheum’s interior. “I had a mind to report the place to the Board of Health”, she said, adding “I would rather go to the bathroom in the street outside than to use the ladies washrooms in the Orpheum.” We both wondered what well-known entertainers such as Robin Williams and Jackie Mason must think when they first see the trashy dump which they have been booked into.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on September 30, 2008 at 8:10 pm

I wouldn’t call the Orpheum “little”.

MPol on September 30, 2008 at 7:55 pm

What a neat little Theatre the Orpheum is! I saw Gordon Lightfoot in concert there back in the mid-1980’s, and he was excellent.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on June 16, 2008 at 11:10 am

The attraction at the Loew’s Orpheum during Christmas week of 1921 was the movie “The Little Minister” plus News and Comedy Shorts; while there was a vaudeville program on stage. Their ad reads “Continuous 915AM – 1030PM.”

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on June 6, 2008 at 10:15 am

Ron- I have all the info necessary to create pages here in CT for the Wilbur and the Shubert in Boston but there is no history that I can find that they ever presented movies. Unlike the Orpheum which was a first-run cinema for decades before becoming a live theater today. Too bad that CT does not have some sort of a link to a sub-program called Stage Treasures or Live Treasures where theaters like the Wilbur and Shubert could be listed.