Orpheum Theater LA
While Los Angeles is known for its majestic beaches and amazing movie palaces, sometimes people forget that Los Angeles has a huge theatre following as well. From gigantic productions at the Pantages Theatre or at the Music Center. From the Disney Concert Hall to the theaters that used to line “Broadway” in Downtown LA, there are many great, old, and historic theaters to know and love here.
The Orpheum is one of the few remaining movie theatres from a bygone era, residing on Los Angeles’ Broadway Avenue and listed on the National Historic Register. Established in 1926, it was designed by G. Albert Lansburgh and provided entertainment to audiences for decades, featuring acts such as Eddie Cantor, the Marx Brothers, Jack Benny, Sophie Tucker, Will Rogers, Sally Rand, Lena Horne, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington. The theater was also home to the last of the great theatre organs on Broadway, installed at the Orpheum in 1928. Located above street level, its exterior remains largely unchanged over the past 50 years, providing us with a nostalgic glimpse into LA’s rich cultural heritage.
Built in the early 1920s and opened in 1926, the Orpheum (named for the Greek mythological figure Orpheus, a legendary musician, poet & prophet) was the fourth and final Los Angeles venue for the Orpheum vaudeville circuit. It has a Beaux-Arts facade designed by movie theater architect G. Albert Lansburgh. One of the coolest features of the Orpheum is that it has a Mighty Wurlitzer organ which was installed in 1928 and is one of the last 3 pipe organs remaining in Southern California Theatre Venues.
Back when it was built, The Orpheum was a popular venue for burlesque queen Sally Rand, the Marx Brothers, Will Rogers, Frances “Baby” Gumm (otherwise known as Judy Garland), comedian Jack Benny, jazz greats Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington. Whew…and that is just a short list of who’s who in Old Hollywood that performed there. While it was also a vaudeville theatre until the 50’s, it eventually changed over to a popular place for concerts. Have you ever heard of Little Richard, Aretha Franklin, and Stevie Wonder? So have we. And the theatre at the Orpheum hosted them in the 1960’s as their stars were rising.
Like most theaters from this time period, it eventually fell into disrepair but underwent a $3 million dollar renovation in 1989. It is currently the most restored theater on Broadway in Downtown LA. Now it is used as a major venue for concerts, movie premieres, and location shoots.
The magnificence of the historic Theatre is unquestionable; with its state-of-the-art auditorium, lobby, and foyers on the lower balcony, and its majestic upper balcony, it stands as a glorious reminder of a more elegant time in entertainment. The wood-paneled foyer downstairs is particularly striking, evoking an atmosphere of sophistication and luxury from bygone days.
This Theater also has something rare and special to offer that is not found in many places – the Wurlitzer organ, which is the only one in Los Angeles still being used in its original location. Recently, the organ console was moved from its original orchestra pit elevator, and can now be found in a room off stage when it’s not being used. Thanks to the efforts of local preservationists, this beautiful theater remains standing as an homage to the heyday of cinematic glory.
Orpheum Theatre Movie Appearances
You might recognize The Orpheum from American Idol, The Apprentice, or America’s Got Talent. Currently, you can see some major shows by Live Nation there as well as comedians and special performances for charities.
The Los Angeles Orpheum Theatre has made an incredible number of appearances in cinema, appearing in a variety of guises. From the interiors of Town Hall in A Mighty Wind and the Belasco Theatre in Barton Fink to the exteriors of Minsky’s burlesque theatre in Gypsy and the Ed Sullivan Theatre in Jersey Boys, the Orpheum is synonymous with Hollywood grandeur.
It also appears as the interior of Doug Munny’s new casino theatre in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and as the Pandora Theatre in Last Action Hero. For many, though, the Orpheum is most remembered as the interior of The Savoy in Now You See Me and the exterior of Carnegie Hall in Whiplash. In each case, the Orpheum adds authentic movie magic to the films it features in.
Visiting the Los Angeles Orpheum Theatre
Visiting the historic Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles is a unique and unparalleled experience. Home to many acclaimed commercial events and performances, the theatre also offers visitors a rare glimpse of its stunning architecture and interiors through select tours.
The Los Angeles Conservancy runs regular guided walking tours which often include access to the Orpheum. These tours run every Saturday morning, last 2.75 hours, cover 10 blocks of Broadway in Downtown LA, and cost $15 per person. Furthermore, certain flights of stairs may be included depending on the availability of the theatre. For more information and updates regarding these tours, please refer to the LA Conservancy’s website.
Alternatively, LA Insider Tours offers individual tours of The Orpheum as part of their Downtown LA tour. Additional details about this tour can be found through the LA Insider Tours website.
Finally, if you are looking for a truly unforgettable experience, consider checking out the Los Angeles Conservancy’s Last Remaining Seats initiative. This annual program showcases classic films at the Orpheum and includes pre-screening backstage tours for a very limited number of people. Refer to the Last Remaining Seats website for more information and updates.