In 1890, the Grand Opera House was built on the corner of Main and Beale Streets. The Grand was billed as the classiest theatre outside of New York City. Vaudeville was the main source of entertainment at the time, featuring singers, musicians and magicians. The Grand became part of the Orpheum Circuit of vaudeville shows in 1907, and the theatre became known as The Orpheum.
Vaudeville at the Orpheum was successful for almost two decades. Then in 1923, after a show that featured singer Blossom Seeley, a fire started and the theatre burned to the ground.
In 1928, at a cost of $1.6 million, a new Orpheum was built on the original site of the Grand, but it was a different theater. The new Orpheum is twice as large as her predecessor and opulently decorated. Lavish tasseled brocade draperies, enormous crystal chandeliers, gilded moldings, and the Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ are just a few of its new amenities.
As vaudeville's popularity waned, the Orpheum was purchased by the Malco movie theater chain in 1940 and presented first run movies until 1976, when Malco decided to sell the building. There was even talk of demolishing the old theater to build an office complex. However, in 1977 the Memphis Development Foundation purchased the Orpheum and began bringing Broadway productions and concerts back to the theatre.
Fifty-four years had taken a toll on the “South's Finest Theatre.” The Orpheum was closed on Christmas in 1982 to begin a $5 million renovation to restore its 1928 opulence. A grand reopening celebration was held in January of 1984, and it signaled the rebirth of entertainment in downtown Memphis.
Throughout the next 20 years, the Orpheum has brought in large-scale Broadway shows, like Phantom of the Opera, Cats, and Les Miserables, while continuing to offer performances from great entertainers like Jerry Seinfeld, Dorothy Hamill, Tony Bennett, the Goo Goo Dolls, and many more.
The Orpheum is now managed by the Memphis Development Foundation and presents 10-12 Broadway shows each year. Two of Memphis' local arts groups, Ballet Memphis and Opera Memphis, also call the Orpheum home.
The Orpheum Theatre is a non-profit organization and continues to flourish because of the generous support of the community. For information about how you can support the Orpheum, call 901-525-7800 or visit our Support Us page.