A Brief History
The Majestic Theatre opened on February 16, 1903 with a performance of the jolly musical comedy, The Storks. Eben Dyer Jordan commissioned architect John Galen Howard to design The Majestic, who was one of only 400 American architects trained at L’Ecole des Beaux Arts in the late 1800s. Howard attended MIT before moving to Paris so his design of the Majestic combines plain old Yankee ingenuity with the classical perfection, Rococo decoration, functional quality, and pure visual fun taught at the Beaux Arts School. He used the newly invented electric light bulb to proclaim the theater's grandeur by accenting the tall columns, soaring arches, and stained glass of the facade. The pattern was repeated in the lobby and auditorium - 4,500 light bulbs in all.
While originally designed for opera and theatre, the Majestic served many purposes through the years. Operated by the Shubert Organization, it converted to vaudeville in the 1920s. By the mid-1950s, movies had taken over the stage, with alterations that transformed the lobby and covered much of the Beaux Arts splendor. By 1983, when Emerson College purchased the Majestic - then called the Saxon - from Sack Theaters, it had fallen into severe decline. With patient and painstaking effort, Emerson College was able to bring the Majestic back to life and into compliance with modern building codes; it included new heating, air conditioning, plumbing and electrical systems, new stage floor and scenery, new dressing rooms, and wheelchair accessibility. The College completed the final phase of restoration in 2003 with the entire building restored to its original splendor.
This work has been so important to the Boston community that it has garnered two Boston Magazine "Best of Boston" awards, and the 1992 Historic Neighborhoods Foundation Award for enhancing and preserving the design and social heritage of the city of Boston. The theatre is a member of the national League of Historic Theatres and is a Boston Historic Landmark. Former mayor Raymond Flynn proclaimed April 26, 1989 to be Emerson Majestic Theatre Day.
The House Of Gold
When Eben Dyer Jordan commissioned John Galen Howard to design the Majestic Theatre, Boston's existing theaters had a subdued, elegant style. The most ornate in town was the Rococo-styled Colonial Theatre of 1901. It had decorative plaster work gilded in a style copied from the Palace of Versailles in France.
The L'Ecole des Beaux Arts (Beaux Arts School) in Paris lead a resurgence of the highly decorative forms such as Rococo, blending them with Classical forms and accents referring to current popular styles. The Majestic therefore has a unique fusion of Classical form and art nouveau, with a touch of the Rococo influence. Since every piece of decorative plaster is gilded and the scheme has more decorative plaster than other forms (and hence an almost overwhelming amount of bright gold leaf) the Majestic was called "The House Of Gold."
Why do people stop and stare in amazement when they walk into the Majestic? What is it that so captivates the eye and stirs the heart? What makes this theater unique?
You don’t have to be an architect to see how classical and decorative themes are intermingled throughout the theater. The outside of the theater has a sturdy classical look with its Roman ionic columns, but look at the columns inside. They are swirled with rich, red marble and crowned with gold-leafed masks, leaves, and cherubs. Where classicism calls for geometric patterns and organized lines, there are thick garlands of fruits and flowers. On walls where there should be one-dimensional murals, there are full-figured sculptures leaning over their guests. The golden latticing on the ceiling is garnished with grape clusters, and if you look carefully, you can see the sky peeking through the open spaces.
These are the things that make the Majestic so unusual. Architect John Galen Howard came from the Beaux Arts School of Paris, which emphasized the importance of classical architecture as a foundation. Students of Howard’s time challenged the norm and re-interpreted classical style by adding their own personality to their projects. In the Majestic, the architect’s quirkiness can clearly be seen. He applied not only his personal expression but also his ingenuity and imagination to the Majestic’s design. In fact, Howard was so dedicated to the craftsmanship of the theater; he personally oversaw the vast detailing in the interior.
The Majestic is one of the few remaining examples of the Beaux Arts style in the United States and is revered for its grandeur, impeccable craftsmanship, and attention to detail. The next time you visit, take a closer look at the artwork around you. The Majestic is more than a building. It is a wonder to behold, a fusion of art forms, and most of all an expression of personality.
Built in 1903, the Majestic was the second performance facility built in Boston's historic Theatre District (the Colonial was completed in 1900). It is in the Piano Row Historic District. The theater is a Boston Historic Landmark, listed on both the State and the National Registers of Historic Buildings.
The Cutler is an outstanding example of Beaux Arts classicism notable for both its monumental terra cotta exterior and its richly ornamented interior. Constructed when this style was at its most popular, the Majestic is among Boston's finest remaining examples. It appears to be the only remaining east coast building designed by John Galen Howard, architect of the Electric Light Tower at the 1901 Buffalo world's fair, and founder in 1903 of the California School of Architecture at U.C. Berkeley.
Masterfully designed and commissioned to be a key component of the city's institutional infrastructure supporting opera, dance, and the spoken word, it opened in 1903 to accolades about its revolutionary institutional design, its architectural beauty, and its extraordinary acoustics. Howard designed the Majestic to be the first Boston theater with cantilevered balconies, meaning they’re supported on one side with no columns or pillars situated in the seating area. Therefore, the sight lines are unobstructed. Shaped like an inverted bowl or megaphone, the auditorium curves both out and up from the stage, carrying sound to all seats so that the acoustics are even throughout.
Howard’s revolutionary use of electric light attracted enthusiasts and imitators from around the world. Over 4,500 light bulbs traced the arches and accented design elements. The Majestic was the first to integrate electric lighting into the architectural fabric; earlier buildings had simulated old forms, such as the candelabra, in their fixtures.
The interior of the Majestic demonstrates the high standards of turn-of-the-century craftsmanship. Commissioned to paint the lunettes in the lobby was nationally known New York artist William deLeftwich Dodge. Dodge's best known murals are those at the Library of Congress. Plaster work was done by the Boston firm of Sleep, Elliot and King, whose credits include the Keith's Boston and Providence, the Hollis Theatre (all since demolished) and the main foyer of the Colonial. Both Boston companies, L.M. Glover did the marble work and W.P. Marble and Company the brass work. The Artificial Marble Company of New York produced the lobby scagliola work, a process where plaster was made to imitate stone. Interior decoration at the Majestic was by the firm of Pennell and Haberstroth, whose senior partner, H. B. Pennell, also worked on the Colonial and Wilbur theaters.
The Majestic is of historical interest as the first of three theaters erected for the city by one of its leading citizens, merchant and music patron Eben Dyer Jordan (1857-1916). He succeeded his father in 1895 as president of Jordan, Marsh and Company. He expanded that dry goods firm into the foremost unit of a major 20th century department store chain.
Instructed in singing as a young man, Jordan was reputed to be good enough to sing professionally. After his father's death, he took the elder Jordan's chair on the board of the New England Conservatory of Music, where he helped in the school's move from Franklin Square to its present location near Symphony Hall. He then made possible the construction of three houses designed for different presentations of opera.
Jordan built the Majestic for the broad range of European operas. He built Jordan Hall as a fine concert auditorium, and in 1909 he built the grand-scaled Boston Opera House on a nearby Huntington Avenue site to house Henry Russell's Boston Opera Company. The latter was razed in 1957, leaving only the Majestic and Jordan Hall as purpose-built opera facilities.
In its heyday, many of the world's most famous artists performed at the Majestic. These artists run from A to Z -- from Bud Abbott and Fred Allen (after whom Allen's Alley, which runs beside the Theatre, is named), to the Mark Morris Dance Group and the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company.
Today the Cutler Majestic Theatre is Boston's most popular opera house. It was home to Opera Boston and the international opera producer Teatro Lirico d'Europa; and is currently home to the New England Conservatory Opera Theater. Musicals, dramas, dance, and classical music also grace its stage.
What is a Historic Landmark?
The Cutler Majestic Theatre was built for opera, one of three facilities Eben Dyer Jordan commissioned to house his favorite art form. (The others are Jordan Hall at New England Conservatory, designed for concert opera, and the 1909 Boston Opera House on Huntington Street, designed for grand opera and demolished in 1957.) The sound is exceptional, and the view is unobstructed from all seats because it is the first Boston theater engineered without pillars and such obstructions to visibility and sound. It's "love" of opera singers remains evident today to both fans and performers alike. It was engineered to support sophisticated stage effects and was the first theatre in Boston designed for electric light. We loved restoring its original appearance, but now we also take pains to constantly upgrade technical systems to 21st century standards.
Its architectural importance earned the Majestic a place in both the Massachusetts and National Registers of Historic Places, and status as a Boston Historic Landmark. It is located in the historic Boston Theatre District and Piano Row, both of which are Landmark districts.
According to the Boston Landmarks Commission’s enabling statute, a Landmark is "a physical feature or improvement which in whole or part has historical, social, cultural, architectural, or aesthetic significance to the city and the commonwealth, the New England Region or the nation." To achieve such standing requires a grueling process. A petition must be filed, a study completed, and public hearings held. Then 2/3 of the Commission must agree that the designation is appropriate, and the Mayor and the City Council must approve the designation.
"Adaptive Reuse" is a term preservationists use to describe the practice of saving historic sites, whose original use is no longer viewed as viable, by converting them for new functions. In the 100 years since its grand opening, the Majestic has been adapted to serve a larger number of functions than any other purpose-built theater in Boston.
The Majestic was one of three facilities built by merchant, philanthropist, and opera lover Eben Dyer Jordan for the purpose of housing opera. The Majestic opened in 1903, designed much like the finest European opera houses with acoustic and visual perfection, ideal for baroque, classical, and early romantic operas. He also built New England Conservatory's Jordan Hall in 1903 to house concert opera, chamber and small orchestral music, and another hall for the late romantic "grand" opera form that was emerging in Beyreuth, Germany. That hall, the Boston Opera House on Huntington Avenue, west of Jordan Hall, was built in 1909 and razed in 1957.
The Majestic became a pre-Broadway tryout hall soon after its opening. Allied with the Shubert Organization, its first Boston venue in its war against the Syndicate, the Majestic played host to the finest Shubert artists until the 1916 construction of The Shubert Theatre. Then it became the second-string house for Lee and J.J. Shubert, hosting such fare as boxing matches despite the stern warnings against such programming issued by its local manager, A. L. Wilbur. The Shuberts, however, won out and went so far as to convert the theater to a film and vaudeville house following World War I.
Those adaptations changed both appearance and function. The interior was spray painted a solid color, covering the gold and silk brocade finishes. Most of the light fixtures were plastered over in an effort to modernize and reduce the electric bills. A projection booth was installed in prime mezzanine seating, radically affecting the acoustics and sight lines. The lobby layout was changed to accommodate continuous shows. The stained glass exterior doors were replaced with clear glass and most of the interior mirrors were eliminated. An entrance to a tunnel leading to the subway was crudely carved into the marbled walls.
The Shuberts didn't keep vaudeville at the Majestic for very long. Within a year they abandoned the mixture of varied live acts and short movies. Almost certainly they found it difficult to compete with Keith-Albee at the 3,000-seat Boston Theatre and the Syndicate at the 2,800-seat Orpheum, since the Majestic held only 1,700. Within a year they replaced continuous vaudeville with second-run films ("Proven Pictures") interrupted by the occasional pre-Broadway tryout. They pushed the margins to maintain profitability with this policy, and the building paid its share. In 1934 a bomb went off destroying the lower lobby. The manager claimed competitors, jealous at his success with popular admission prices, placed it. Industry insiders speculated about the Shuberts' relationship to the projectionists' union.
This mixed live/movie policy continued until 1956, when the Shuberts sold the Majestic to Benjamin Sack's Sack Theaters. Sack planned to program mid-sized first-run movies at the Majestic, so he remodeled. He adapted the stage for movies only, eliminating the possibility of live performances. He adapted the lobby to look like a modern 1950s movie theater complete with dropped acoustical tile ceiling, bright pinks and greens, a candy counter at one end and ticket booth at the other, and plastic flower plantings lining the entryways. He repainted inside. He closed the upper balcony, to make the seating capacity unique from his other downtown holdings which included the 2,800-seat RKO Keith Memorial. He added a new facade and marquee, and renamed it The Saxon.
Sack's remodeling was so successful that the Saxon won the first-run showing of Disney's first stereo color film, "Fantasia”. It was a proud first run house, with reserved seats, printed program books, and scheduled showings. It was initially very successful at this, but declined as all single screen movie houses declined. By the late 1970s it was showing continuous B-grade movies bordering on pornography and exploitation.
Emerson College bought the Saxon in 1983. It was fully depreciated with a large deferred maintenance budget. The light bulbs in the auditorium were all burned out. The facade and marquee were crumbling. Soon after the purchase, a city sewer blockage filled the main seating level with water. Rain dripped onto the movie screen and sound system.
But Emerson College had a dream, of returning the Majestic to its roots as a first class theater suited to opera, dance, and the spoken word. Over years of focused effort and investment, Emerson College has replaced the infrastructure, revealed the original architectural detail, restored the facade, lobby, and much of the ornamental plaster, and made the Cutler Majestic Theatre a 21st Century Theatre Inside a 19th Century Historic Landmark.
Emerson College began restoration and renewal in August, 1988 and continued until the Theatre reopened nine months later with the College's production of "George M!" on April 26, 1989. Restoration proceeded in phases and was completed in May 2003, just in time for the Majestic's 100th anniversary season. Today a range of New England resident performing groups call the Emerson "home”. Nearly 100,000 people will visit the Theatre this year.
Restoring the Majestic
With their gracious lead gift in 1999, Ted and Joan Benard-Cutler spurred the restoration of this century-old performing arts venue. Emerson College closed the theatre in the spring of 2002 for the final stage of restoration. It re-opened with Emerson College's EVVY's show, a televised award show honoring students and comparable to annual cable award shows such as the Oscar's, Tony's and Grammy's.
The Cutler Majestic Theatre plays a unique role in the Boston community, as does Emerson College. It is a Boston landmark and the second oldest theatre in Boston's downtown Theatre District. It houses several of Boston's finest not-for-profit arts organizations, plays host to special productions from leading Boston-area arts groups, and serves both as a laboratory for Emerson College students to gain experience in the arts and crafts of live communication and as a key production facility for the Division of Performing Arts' Emerson Stage. The resulting range of exciting, innovative, and fun events has kept the Cutler Majestic Theatre "lighted" more consistently than any other Theatre District facility, with the broadest and most diverse menu of artistic events.
Emerson College has restored John Galen Howard's vision including:
Ornate gold leaf with intricately colored washes
Plaster grape arbors, pomegranates, and leafy vines
Classical pilasters, capitals, and cartouches
Over 5,000 replica lighting fixtures
Marble, scagliola, marezzo, tile, and brass
Seating and carpeting replicating 1903 originals
Stained glass windows in the Tiffany and Company style
Murals by William deLeftwich Dodge
Terra cotta classical façade
Marquee and canopy reflecting 1903 originals
Elkus/Manfredi Architects set out to restore the Majestic’s visual splendor. But this Boston firm also employed Yankee ingenuity and upgraded the Majestic to modern standards of comfort, safety, and functionality. Those improvements include:
Wider, more comfortable seats
Expanded washrooms in more locations
More lobby areas with food and drink amenities
Improved heating and air conditioning
Tickets on sale any time by phone or Internet
Expanded accessibility for audience and artists
New, more comfortable dressing rooms
21st century stage systems
A Tour of the Restoration
Upon arriving at the Majestic you will notice a three-bay classical facade with semi-circular arched entrance portals capped by a Greek wave band and simple cornice molding. At the second level are three recessed bays separated by massive three-story half-round fluted Roman ionic columns. Capping each bay is a large terra cotta theater mask, expressing one of three emotions: happiness, sadness, and anger. In each bay is a round stained glass window, originally used to ventilate the second balcony. Below are three large vertical stained glass windows. Below these windows is a balustrade and three doors providing access from the rear of the main balcony. The finish is terra cotta, with large areas of grand and intricate relief. The facade was painstakingly restored in 1993. Damaged terra cotta was recast, and all aspects were properly cleaned, weatherproofed, and bird proofed. The original facade lighting -- 500 bare bulbs mounted in rosettes that create a beacon of warmth in the heart of the Theatre District -- was replicated with modern materials during the summer of 1995. A new marquee, designed to acknowledge the original 1903 signage and subsequent 1920 reinterpretations, was approved by the Boston Landmarks Commission and installed during 1999.
As you enter, an antique full-length mirror centered in a marble wall framed by ornamental plaster meets you. Warmly colored marble columns support the gold-leafed dome centered within the three lobby chambers. Gold-leafed cherubs and masks smile down from the cornices. A central passageway takes you into the orchestra seating level of the main auditorium. It is distinguished from the remainder of the lobby by orange toned scagliola and flanked by two marble staircases leading to the mezzanine and balcony seating levels. The steps and floor are a contrasting red marble. Brass railings and lighting fixtures bring additional warmth to the color scheme. Gold-toned ornamental iron work accents the stairs and contrasts with the window lights in the three sets of double doors that open onto Tremont Street.
Originally, intricate and highly colored stained glass panes closed off the lobby from the horses and carriages passing on Tremont Street, and an arch of stained glass accented the gold dome and murals above. During the day the lobby was bathed in light colored by this glass. At night, the electric lighting from inside threw colors onto the sidewalk and street, welcoming patrons into the magic. Although safety and security concerns long ago forced the replacement of the stained glass doors with clear glass, the harmonious color scheme and range of textures makes the lobby a magical, marvelous place, the perfect preparation for an event at the Majestic.
Six semi-circular murals painted by New York artist William de Leftwich Dodge, one of the best known muralists of his day, grace the Cutler Majestic Theatre lobby. Dodge's work is also installed at the Library of Congress and Boston Public Library. The two large paintings at the ends of the central chamber represent music and dance in two classic aspects. One is a Grecian dancing maiden, full of life and action, in a garden of riotous red flowers. The other is a swarthy Egyptian, slow, languorous, and exotic. The four small panels -- "Lunettes" -- depict classical scenes of joy, action, and repose.
Figures are scantily clad, as was appropriate to the Victorian-era classical tradition. Long-time Boston residents tell stories of attending Majestic performances as elementary school students. One friend tells of the sisters who were his teachers instructing the students to avert their eyes and not look up at the "sinful" cherubs and paintings. He doesn't remember what performance he saw, but well remembers the lobby! Even today, these brilliantly restored murals draw most eyes upward as people enter the Cutler Majestic Theatre. The Majestic murals were restored in 1993.
The Cutler Majestic Theatre lobby and rear wall of the main seating section are constructed of manufactured marble. This material is "marezzo" or "American scagliola”.
Scagliola is manufactured by mixing marble chips into a plaster base. The Marezzo technique replaces marble chips with marble dust. Invented by Jesuits in 16th-century Italy, these techniques allowed artisans to create marble at the construction site rather than transporting it long distances. The marble could be colored more perfectly and textured more artistically than quarried material. Artists could specify how to mold and shape it. Therefore, it is a unique building material, durable and beautiful like marble yet malleable and stable like plaster.
In Europe these materials were used mainly in churches and palaces. In the United States they were commonly used in public buildings, railway stations, seats of government and theaters. In Boston you will find Marezzo construction in the State Capitol Building and Boston Public Library, as well as in the Colonial and Wang Theatres. (The B.F. Keith Memorial Theatre, now known as the Sarah Caldwell Opera House, was built with solid marble decoration to compete with the manufactured materials in the Metropolitan/Wang Theatre.)
There were nearly 5,000 light bulbs burning when this theater opened its doors on February 15, 1903. John Galen Howard, who also designed the Electric Tower at the 1901 Buffalo Pan-American Exhibition, designed the Majestic Theatre. He was among the first architects to explore the full flexibility of the newly invented electric lighting. He designed and installed fixtures that were designed to take advantage of electric light bulbs only, rather than fixtures intended to replicate earlier light forms, for example, candelabras or chandeliers with flame-shaped globes. Outside, he used lighting to make the theater warm and welcoming, a place of safety and grandeur. On the inside he used light bulbs to accent the many arches which define his architecture and to highlight the beaux arts details. The lighted arch theme starts on the facade and continues through the lobbies and auditorium.
The main auditorium dome is lighted by "Strings Of Pearls" fixtures which are twined into the plaster grape arbors that decorate the arches. Each contains four bulbs inside its semicircular holophane globe, which directs the light on an angle toward the seats far below. When Emerson College purchased the theater, all the bulbs were burned out and the globes were thick with soot from years of cigarette smoke.
Under the side wall boxes, in the mezzanine, and in the rear of the main seating level, ceiling globes were employed. These had circular holophane globes. The holophane globes were in common use until the mid 1920s, when modern light bulbs were introduced. Modern light bulbs employ a coiled, concentrated filament to make very bright lights at high wattages. The light bulbs used in 1903 had thin, line filaments that were inefficient and dim. A regular "household" bulb used about 60 watts, but made about as much light as a modern 75 watt bulb, so fixture designers used holophane lamp shades to concentrate and direct the light, in effect making it brighter. Modern fixture designers use lamp shades to diffuse the light, spreading it around, making it less glaring.
Rosette fixtures were used to accent the arches in the lobby, the arches above the side wall boxes in the main auditorium, to accent columns, and to accent strong horizontal lines including the edges of the balconies. These fixtures are bare light bulbs surrounded by an ornament with petals emanating from the bulb -- a "little rose." Interior rosettes were cast plaster. Outside, they were cast iron. Emerson College restored the exterior fixtures using fiberglass rosettes and plastic conduits so that the lighting will be durable and meet modern electric codes, and the interior fixtures with plaster as in the original construction.
In 1903 electric lights were flexible, but not yet trustworthy. City officials required that fixtures plumbed for both gas and electricity mark exit doors. The electric lights were turned off during performances, leaving only the gas light. The white gas chimney is broken, but we know from photographs that it was shaped like a candle.
Built in 1903, the Majestic Theatre was designed by John Galen Howard and originally had nearly 1700 seats, although only 1186 are installed today. Its Beaux Art style follows through from the exterior of the building, into the lobby and the main auditorium.
When you enter the auditorium, you will notice the domed ceiling with the "string of pearls" lights. Originally, all electricity for the building was generated in the basement by its own DC power plant, which supplied the power for the nearly 5,000 light bulbs.
As you look up, notice that the pattern in which the strings of pearls are embedded is a duplication of the arches on the building's exterior. Many people describe the effect as being inside a giant megaphone, or a glowing sea shell. You share the performance with the ornate plaster angels and spirits.
Both the orchestra (main floor) and mezzanine (first balcony) levels have no pillars, posts or visible means of support for the upper balconies. Six foot steel beams run the width of the Theatre under the ornate plaster work.
The mezzanine was almost fully restored to it's original 1903 state during the summer of 1996. A projection booth, installed during the 1920s Shubert modernization, was removed. All of the ornamental plaster, as well as flat and curved walls and ceilings, were restored. Original paint colors were replicated. Walls and ceilings were stenciled to patterns found behind the soundproofing inside the projection booth. New seats were installed that replicate the originals although considerably more comfortable than those from 1903.
The Peanut Gallery
In 1903, the second balcony had a separate entrance and seating for about 500. Patrons would enter through the alley, purchasing inexpensive tickets at a second ticket office, and climbing three flights of stairs to enter the theater. There was no connection between the second balcony and the remainder of the theater. The Peanut Gallery even had a separate third floor lobby, its own fire exits, and its own toilets. The seating is very steep, and patrons saw a top view of the artists. But admission was inexpensive, sight lines and sound were great, and it was the warmest place to be during the winter!
When the Sack movie chain purchased the Majestic Theatre from the Shubert Organization in 1956, it closed off this level to reduce the seating capacity and cut film rental costs. Emerson College restored and reopened the balcony in May 2003, with its own air conditioning, hand rails, and safety improvements. Many people consider these the best seats in the house!
Ornamental Plaster and Fiber
Throughout the Majestic Theatre you will find extraordinary examples of turn-of-the-century ornamental plaster cast in place. The main dome is full relief horsehair plaster designed as grape arbors held up by trees entwined with vines, and accented by glowing "string of pearls" lights. Columns are decorated with formal classical cornices and capped by angels. Arches are topped by masks and garlands. Light bulbs are centered in rosettes. Ornate "carved" frames surround mirrors, flat walls, and scagliola. Cherubs and crests join classical "dental" molding to anchor the lobby's central gold leaf dome. Most of these plaster relief surfaces were finished in gold leaf with a variety of washes bringing a range of color tints to vary the palate.
On opening night in 1903, walls in the orchestra section were finished in burgundy silk brocade, and carpets were of crimson. The side wall boxes were draped in crimson with blue and gold trim, which contrasted beautifully with the green-tinted seats. The mezzanine paint scheme tended toward peach, with gold stenciling on flat expanses, drawing the orchestra patron's eyes upward, in turn accenting the extreme height and openness of the main dome. There wasn't a chandelier to destroy sight lines or ruin the broad sweep of the auditorium. The effect must have been stunning in its opulence and simplicity.
Over the stage, there was a double set of hemp lines for flying scenery. One set is still available for use, and a new 35 line counterweight system has been installed stage right. Star dressing rooms were situated on the inner proscenium wall, and chorus members dressed under the stage.
Opening Night Review
Taken from The Boston Daily Globe Tuesday Morning,
February 17, 1903, Page 1
SPLENDOR OF THE MAJESTIC
Hub Proud of Beautiful New Theatre.
Gold from Entrance to Exit.
It's all That is Best and Modern.
Crowded From Rail to Topmost Gallery.
Brilliant Audience to Behold the Opening Piece.
"The Storks," a Jolly Musical Comedy.
There appeared to be but one opinion among the great throng that attended the opening of Boston's new theater, the Majestic, last evening, and that was that it is the most beautiful playhouse Boston has yet seen.
It was a brilliant opening, for the house was crowded from orchestra rail to the topmost row of the gallery, and those who accepted the higher-priced seats well represented that prosperous element of the community that is able on each occasions to add no little to the picturesque effect of the ensemble by a handsome display of rich fabrics, laces, wraps and jewels.
The quality of the audience was indicated by the constant stream of carriages that discharged their daintily beflounced and beribboned freight through the richly ornamented and inviting entrance to the theater, for half an hour or more previous to the rise of the curtain, the constantly moving line of vehicles extending for a great part of the time from the point of the theater to Boylston and beyond.
It was an audience the composition of which was most promising for the future of the magnificent theater, for it was not composed, to any overwhelming degree, of any specific class, but it was an exceedingly interesting composite of the various social strata, from the famous Mrs. John L. Gardner to the industrious mechanic or shop girl, the intermediate gradation containing bankers, rich merchants, real estate operators, professional men who live in Easy street, to use an expressive if not elegant phrase, and the large body of middle class storekeepers and high salaried wage earners in a multitude of lines of human endeavor.
As a whole, the gathering was a notably dressy one, even the sea of humanity in the balconies presented an unwontedly gay appearance in that respect.
For 15 minutes before the time for the beginning if the play, the front lobby, and, indeed, the sidewalk, for some distance from the front entrance, contained a surging mass of well-bred and cheerful faced men and women, who endured the rib-crushing incident to getting inside the portals of the house with most commendable good nature.
The approach through the outer lobby was a most pleasing sight, the rich, warm bronze tones with which the graceful floriated ornamentation of the walls and cornices are tinctured, arousing confident anticipations for further beauty within, which are not disappointed when the observer has arrived within the inner lobby, or the foyer. Here the auditors received their programs from the hand of a boy gorgeous in a page's costume of the period of Louis XV of France, consisting of scarlet square-cut coat and small clothes and turquoise blue vest, with voluminous lace ruffles.
An onlooker raised a laugh by suggesting that the gorgeously arrayed youngster needed a pair of rubber boots instead of the patent leather pumps he wore, a comment that was inspired by the extraordinary amount of mud brought in by the thousands of feet that passed through the door, and deposited it on the beautiful mosaic floor of the lobby. Later it had to be shoveled with a coal shovel.
The orchestra portion of the audience found a new wrinkle in the use of a retiring room leading off the foyer, enabling them to discard their wraps before entering into the auditorium, and thus making their entree with every detail of their dress in apple pie order.
It is unquestionable to say that practically no one in the great audience approximately 2000 anticipated such a scene of beauty as is presented in the first glimpse of the interior of the auditorium. Everyone showed an anxious anticipation and gave evidence of surprise at the degree to which the interior exceeded their anticipations. It was at once a fact to every eye that this atest magnificent auditorium is destined to become an ideal place to serve as an environment for fashionable women to display their most luxurious gowns.
It was one of those occasions when even the most conservatively decorous are unable to resist the temptation to look around and to pass a sincere opinion upon those things that delight the eye, and are already stated in effect, not a comment was heard throughout the evening that was not tinctured by genuine enthusiasm for the original and exquisitely graceful architectural design and rarely beautiful combinations and harmony of coloring.
It was a general agreement that the house is distinctly unique among Boston playhouses and that among its chief attractions is an extremely happy avoidance of anything of the nature of the ***, in effect that the whole decorating scheme is at once both gorgeous and restful to the eyes, a rare combination in modern rococo decoration.It was hard for the auditor to really imagine himself in a Boston playhouse, it was all so foreign looking in its richness and originality of design.
One of the striking features is the graceful effect of the series of arches in the two sides of the auditorium, gradually grading downward in their relative height toward the stage, and the same effect characterizing the opening in which the boxes or loges, as they are called, are set.
And these loges, six on each side of the stage - two tiers of three each, have architectural charm compatible to nothing of the kind that Boston has seen before. They extend outward apparently to about half the depth of the auditorium and serve to break up the monotonous uniformity which the customary extension of the balcony facades to the proscenium arch usually presents in a most agreeable manner.
The peculiar architectural aspect afforded by the radical departure from tradition of doing away with the fashion of the proscenium arch that has prevailed since the modern playhouse first came into vogue, an effect which really makes of the entire auditorium a vast sounding board, sloping gradually upward and outward from the top of the proscenium opening, attracted a great deal of attention and by those who appreciated the *** of the innovation was strongly commended.
Even the many who thought it but an impulse of the architect inspired by artistic motives, admired it as contributing to the beauty of the interior.
The use of lighting, too, contributing, as it does, to the general decorative admiration, not only for its originality, but for its appeal to the love of the symmetrical and beautiful as well.
All the boxes and principal architectural lines, such as pillars, the sides of the proscenium opening and arches spanning the ceiling, being outlined by rows of incandescent lights, afforded a strikingly spectacular effect that was particularly the theme of admiring comment, when viewed from the front portion of the orchestra or the boxes.The decorative accessories of the boxes, notably the crimson draperies with a touch of turquoise blue in the center, and the richness of the stage curtains of plush and silk of the same colors as the box draperies were themes of unquestioned admiration.
The original artistic treatment that characterizes the whole house is not missing in the act drop, which is in notable harmony with the rest of the auditorium, being a study in dull blue, mainly representing a court garden party in the time of Louis XV, with many attractive female figures in the foreground.
One feature that should not be forgotten was the orchestra, which was apparently not only of unusual dimensions, but played with an excellence that is too rare in Boston theater of late years.
There was every indication that the audience felt they had participated in a remarkable opening and had given well-deserved assistance, by their presence, to the managers Messrs. Edward Stair and A.C. Wilber, who are said to be at present in control of 90 theatres throughout the United States.
After the play was over, and when the audience was dispersing, it was manifest that every one was in the frame of mind to say nothing but commendatory things of the purveyors to the public desire for amusement who have so generously provided in this new playhouse the things that satisfy the human desire for the esthetic.
Not an adverse criticism was anywhere heard on the beauty of the playhouse and it is extremely probable there were none.
It is difficult to discriminate in mentioning names among such a large audience, but it may be said that well down in the orchestra Mrs. John L. Gardner was seen, with a party of a dozen guests.
In the boxes, among others, were Mrs. Eben D. Jordan and her son, with half a dozen or more guests Mr. A.L. Wilber and friends, Mr. E.D. Stair with one of the active managers of his theatrical enterprises, Mr. George H. Nicolai Col. and Mrs. George W. Moses, Col. and Mrs. Herbert W. Moses, Mr. Charles E. Rowe, Miss *** Donovan, Mr. C.J. Whitney, a well known manager in Detroit Mr. and Mrs. Robert A. Barnet, Julius Whitmark of New York, chairman Dowd of the board of aldermen, Mr. M.M. Cunniff, Mr. and Mrs. James E. Rice, Mr. D.J. Finnerty of Brookline, Miss Harriet and Miss Alice Loring, Mr. and Mrs. Crompton C. Wilson of New York, Col. and Mrs. W.H. Woods, Mrs. Anna P Ames and party, Mr. and Mrs. Frederick L. Hooper, Mr. and Mrs. Clark M. ***, Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton C. Weegs and party, Mr. and Mrs. Andrew C. Clemin(?), Dr. J.G. Schroder, Dr. Charles H. Loring, Mr. and Mrs. Sidney L. Bracket, Mr. and Mrs. Walter C. Robbins, Mrs. Francis T. Skinner and party, Mrs. Amelia C. Gardner and party, Mr. and Mrs. *** D. Michaels, Mr. and Mrs. C. James Connelly, Mr. and Mrs. R.E. Chickering, Mr. and Mrs. William R. Kaufman, Mr. William J. Holden, Mr. Joseph J. Nagle, Mr. Hamilton J. Drake, of London, Hon. William Nye, Hon. Walter J.D. Bullock, Mr. and Mrs. William C. Houston, Mr. George S. Lowe, Mr. Edward Keith, Mr. Ernest McKim and Mr. George W. Walker.