As I walk into the historic Ohio Theatre in Columbus the patrons are dressed in their finest clothes and the quiet elegance of gilded details on the painted ceilings, red velvet auditorium seats and live orchestra pits transport us all into another era.
The ambiance give me a glimpse into what the theater experience might have been like in 1928 when it was the Loew’s movie house. Tonight, I am catching a Broadway Series performance of the Phantom of the Opera but the Columbus Association for Performing Arts (CAPA) has performances here almost every night of the week showcasing genres from theater to ballet to the symphony.
The majestic Ohio Theatre, like many old theatres in the state was saved from demolition by passionate donors who wanted to preserve this remarkable piece of history. Catching a performance at one of these historic movie houses or vaudeville theatres not only adds a special memory the the experience, but it supports the ongoing efforts required to maintain these elegant structures. There are dozens of them throughout Ohio.
Here are a few of the stand-outs:
There are several more historic theaters in Columbus. The Palace Theater, an old vaudeville venue in the 1930-1950s is popular for theater and musical performances. The Southern Theatre, which opened in 1896 as an opera house is one of the oldest in the state providing an intimate performance venue especially for acoustic musical acts. The Lincoln Theatre has undergone recent renovations and helped to revitalize the King-Lincoln district of Columbus. It now attracts top performance artists.
Newark, Ohio has the Midland Theatre which is a crown jewel in the state. Originally a silent film venue in the 1920s, it sat abandoned for 14 years after significant damage caused by the Blizzard of ’78. It was eventually salvaged and impeccably restored to near original condition attracting well-known artists and musicians.
In Marion, Ohio the Marion Palace Theatre has remained a centerpiece of the community since it opened as a vaudeville theatre in 1928. In its heyday, the theatre attracted acts like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. Like the historic timelines of so many other theatres, it lost its allure over the years and fell into disrepair until it was resorted with most of its original charm in the 1970s. The Marion Palace Theatre is one of only 16 atmospheric theaters remaining in the United States out of more than 100 built around the world by movie palace architect John Eberson. Today, the grand theatre attracts national acts and features regional performers.
The Akron Civic Theatre is also a John Eberson creation that started out in 1919 as a venue called the Hippodrome. The original project was supposed to be a grand entertainment and shopping venue but it went belly up before completion. It became the Loew’s Theatre in 1929 fantastically designed with a Mediterranean and medieval flare. It was nearly destroyed until a 2001 renovation effort gave the mystical looking theater new life that now attracts acts like Cirque Ziva acrobatics, musical acts, theater productions and ballet.
The artistic core of Nelsonville in southeastern Ohio is the restored Stuart’s Opera House resurrected from a state of disrepair in the 1920s and a devastating fire in 1980. The elegant and intimate 1879 opera house maintains its charm with new acts arriving every year spanning genres of contemporary and folk music, theatre and dance productions and art exhibits. When you visit, be sure to book some extra time just to wander in the theatre and look at the walls covered with original hand-printed letterpress promotional posters.
One of the largest historic theatre restoration projects in the country was Playhouse Square in Cleveland. The original five theatres that made up Playhouse Square were restored to a 10-theatre collection that now attract world-class performance acts. It would take several days to experience the variety of performance arts available at the Playhouse Square venues but it could make for a wonderful themed getaway.
Other restored historical theatres in Ohio include:
The Capitol Theatre – Cleveland
Cincinnati Music Hall – Cincinnati
The Canton Palace Theatre – Canton
The Ritz Theatre – Tiffin
Sandusky State Theatre – Sandusky
The Victoria Theatre – Dayton
The Majestic Theatre – Chillicothe
Paxton Theatre – Bainbridge
The Markay Cultural Arts Center – Jackson
The Pemberville Opera House – Pemberville
The Holland Theatre – Bellefontaine
Lions Lincoln Theatre – Massillon
The Ariel Opera House – Gallipolis
The Huber Opera House – Hicksville
The Murphy Theatre – Wilmington
Peoples Bank Theatre – Marietta
The Brecksville Theatre – Brecksville
The Historic Ohio Theatre – Loudonville
Twin City Opera House – McConnelsville
The Baum Opera House – Miamisburg
For more on the arts, Find It Here at Ohio.org.