191 Collins Street,
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The Melbourne Regent Theatre opened on 15th March, 1929 with Ronald Colman and Vilma Banky in “Two Lovers”. It was one of the largest theatres to be built in Australia by the Hoyts chain, seating 3,277 people in opulent splendour with the largest WurliTzer theatre organ installed in Australia at that time. The 4 manual, 21 rank instrument was opened by Stanley Wallace.
At 1:00am on Sunday April 29, 1945 a fire was dicovered by the theatre’s nightwatchman (thought to have begun in the circle area), and the theatre auditorium and backstage area was completely destroyed by the fire. All that remained was the main entrance and foyer. Despite wartime building restrictions, the theatre was completely rebuilt, with a modified proscenium shape and a replacement hybrid WurliTzer 4 manual, 19 rank organ, made up of organs from the Ambassadors Theatre, Perth and the Lyceum Theatre, Melbourne. It was opened by organist Len Davis. The Regent Theatre reopened for business as a movie palace on December 19, 1947 with Cornel Wilde & Maureen O'Hara in “The Homestretch”.
After another long period of successful operation, the Regent Theatre closed once again on 1st July 1970 with Vince Edwards in “The Desperados” and Rachel Romen in “The Desert Raven”. The organ had been removed after a final concert in 1969. The theatre was stripped of all its fittings. Plans to demolish the theatre for a multi-level office block were thwarted, thankfully, and the long saga to ‘Save the Regent’ began.
After 23 years of frustration, hope, and tears, a property developer, David Marriner instigated a plan in 1993 to fully restore the theatre. The Regent Theatre was faithfully restored to its original grandeur, even down to the smallest detail. To prepare it for its role as a ‘lyric’ theatre, necessary alterations were made, such as a new sloping floor to improve sightlines, additional height to the flytower, and more dressing rooms.
On Saturday August 17, 1996, Melbourne’s ‘Palace of Dreams’ finally re-opened in true Hollywood fashion with its third WurliTzer organ faithfully installed (this 4 manual, 36 rank instrument was originally installed in the Granada Theatre, San Francisco, California in 1921). The restoration work cost around $AU37 million. Since then the theatre has been the home to some great musical stage productions including, “Sunset Boulevard”, “Show Boat”, “Fiddler of the Roof” with Topol and “The Lion King”.
On 14th November 1997, movies returned to the Regent Theatre for the first time in 27 years, with a fully restored print of “My Fair Lady”, which ran for an extended season. The Regent Theatre was closed in 2019 to undergo a $19.4 million restoration & renovation, which were completed in January 2020, reopening with a production of “War Horse”. Movies are occasionally screened.
The Regent Theatre is listed on the National Trust Register.
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