Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A New Life for the Paramount

Restoration is a beautiful thing. I've had the opportunity to see a fully restored New Amsterdam Theatre and the creation of a brand new theatre, the Hilton, by combining the condemned Lyric and Apollo Theatres on 42nd Street. There is a rich, theatrical history that is lost when a theatre is demolished. A theatre is sacred. It's the church of the arts. The musical “Follies” is set on the stage of a theatre the night before its scheduled demolition. Past performers gather and reminisce. Their memories flood the stage in the form of ghosts. That musical was born from a photograph of Gloria Swanson in front of a demolished movie theatre.

How wonderful it is to walk into a restored theatre. We, then, can almost feel the ghosts of performances past while in the space.

I was born in 1971 and the above mentioned theatres were long past their prime by the time I was old enough to care. The New Amsterdam Theatre was built in 1903. The Lyric Theatre was also built in 1903. The Apollo, originally called the Bryant, was built in 1920.

With their subsequent restorations complete, they reopened as legitimate theatres once again. I was able to see the beauty of the New Amsterdam Theatre, painstakingly restored from old photographs, while attending "The Lion King." I was able to see elements of the Lyric Theatre (the original dome) and the Apollo Theatre (the original proscenium) when I went to see the original production of "Ragtime" at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts, now the Hilton. It's history. How many people watched "The Ziegfeld Follies" in the New Amsterdam? How many performers glided across that stage? How many performers performed behind the footlights of the Apollo's proscenium? How many theatregoers enjoyed the beauty of the dome at the Lyric? Now even more people get to enjoy them because the choice was made to restore rather than demolish. This leads me to the latest theatre restoration that I have been fortunate enough to see. The Paramount Theatre in Boston.

According to Cinema Treasures (cinematreasures.org), the Paramount opened in 1932, and was the last of the great movie palaces erected on downtown Boston's Washington Street. Named after its original owner, Paramount Pictures, the movie palace was built exclusively for talking pictures and was said to seat 1700 movie-goers. It has been closed since 1976.

In 2002, Millennium Partners restored the Paramount's facade, marquee, and vertical sign.

In April 2005, Emerson College announced plans to renovate the Paramount Theatre, building an entire performing arts facility in and around the theatre. The $77 million project not only includes renovating the Paramount Theatre into a 560-seat theatre, but a new Performance Development Center and a new residence hall for the school. The complex will also feature a 125-seat black box theatre and a 200-seat film screening room.

My friend Stephen is head of musical theatre at Emerson College and his office is now located in the PDC. He took me on a tour. The following are photos taken by me and Stephen of the beautifully restored Paramount Theatre.

For me, theatre is a place to laugh, cry, think, learn. There is now another stage in the world on which to create. It's time to turn off the ghost light and let the sounds of comedy and tragedy fill the air.