By Shari Goldstein Stern
Since 1905, Downtown Dallas’ Majestic Theatre was relocated several times before settling in place for decades, yet the legendary theatre withstood the test of time and motion with grace. The theatre’s current location since 1921 was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.
In Feb. 1920, Dallas businessman and philanthropist Karl Hoblitzelle commissioned architect John Eberson to design The Majestic Theatre at 1925 Elm St., its current location. Constructed as Hoblitzelle’s Interstate Amusement Company’s flagship theater, the $2 million Renaissance Revival style structure opened in 1921. A gala benefit featuring actress Olga Petrova was held on April 11 that year. The theatre’s exterior is a stately reminder of days gone by. Its interior remains one of Dallas’ grandest showcases. The early theatre was the preeminent vaudeville house of the Southwest.
In June 1913, “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” one of the earliest “motion pictures” was the first to open at the Majestic Theatre following years of Vaudeville. Many films premiered there throughout the years. In the 1950s, Fess Parker appeared with the opening of his movie, “The Alamo.” Baby Boomers may have vivid memories of wearing their Davy Crockett hats while the organ arose from beneath the floor with an organist playing before the show opened. The final film screened was “Live and Let Die” in 1963. Baby Boomers may also recall being introduced to the legendary James Bond movies at the Majestic during the 1960s.
Multiple business and financial decisions kept the theatre out of operation until 1975. On Jan. 31, 1976 the Hoblitzelle Foundation formally gave the Majestic Theatre as a gift to the people of Dallas to transform into a center for performing arts. Private funds and a city bond allowed the theatre to undergo a $5M renovation of the striking venue.
Jan. 28, 1983 the Dallas Ballet held the first live, public performance in the Majestic Theatre. In March of that year, Liza Minelli was featured in concert for a gala opening benefiting the theatre.
With more than 113 years behind it, The Majestic Theatre’s colorful history will be celebrated when Lyric Stage, recently welcomed as the Majestic’s resident acting company, opens with “The Majestic Unplugged,” Friday, Nov. 16 through Sunday, Nov. 18 with four performances.
Conceived and music selection by Steven Jones, Lyric Theatre’s founder, “The Majestic Unplugged” includes a revue of numbers representing the golden age of movies from the theatre’s opening in 1921 to its closing in 1973. Will there be some vaudeville thrown into the mix? That’s a “Just you wait and see.”
The range of musical styles is as broad as the theatre’s history, spanning 1905 through 1972. Fans of Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern will recognize the exquisite ballad, “Only Make Believe” from 1927’s “Show Boat,” when performed by Kristen Lassiter and Christopher J. Deaton. Other movie soundtracks represented are 1972’s “The Poseidon Adventure;” 1913’s “Ziegfeld Follies;” 1949’s “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” and Cole Porter’s 1948 classic, “Kiss Me Kate.” The performance is being touted as “The purity of the human voice in its natural state, enhanced only by the acclaimed acoustics of The Majestic Theatre.”
One of Dallas’ most valued and versatile talents, Max Swarner, will open with “Pure Imagination” from Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse’s 1970 “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” Swarner is known for countless shows throughout the area’s proliferation of theaters, including Theatre Too, Contemporary Theater of Dallas and Garland Summer Musicals. Swarner’s other Lyric Stage performances have included “Anything Goes,” “1776,” “The Most Happy Fella,” and others.
Featured guest artist, Grammy Award-winning Cynthia Clawson will put her spin on “Over the Rainbow” from 1939’s “Wizard of Oz.” She will offer the audience a lovely souvenir with her solo of the classic “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers’ 1945 “Carousel.” The revue-style show will also include songs from “Show Boat,” “The Poseidon Adventure,” “Make Believe,” “My Man,” “The Trolley Song” and “The Morning After.”
Steven Jones, who created Lyric Theatre, epitomizes “Follow your dreams.” The native Dallasite and Irving’s MacArthur alumnus went after his BS and DDS from Baylor University and Baylor College of Dentistry, only to change plans and take off for New York without cleaning a single tooth. He followed his dreams to act professionally. Dr. Jones produced his first show Off-Broadway in 1992.
Jones had honed his craft earlier with Dallas Repertory Theatre in NorthPark Center on stage and off for two seasons. Dallas Rep closed, so Jones returned to Dallas, where he found Lyric Stage. “I wanted a place to create great musical theater,” he said.
Performances of Lyric Stage’s “The Majestic Unplugged” are at the Majestic Theatre, 1925 Elm. St. For information and tickets, visit ticketdfw.com or call 214-871-5000.