Showtime in Cleveland: The Rise of a Regional Theater Center

Showtime in Cleveland: The Rise of a Regional Theater Center

Showtime in Cleveland: The Rise of a Regional Theater Center

Showtime in Cleveland: The Rise of a Regional Theater Center


This work takes the reader from the city's first professional theatrical presentation in 1820, through the heyday of vaudeville, to the grand reopening of the newly renovated Allen Theater in 1999 and the return of touring Broadway shows to Cleveland.

In 1820 Cleveland was able to draw a visit from a troupe of professional actors. With no theater in which to perform, the troupe made do with Mowrey's Tavern on Public Square.

As the city grew, theater blossomed and vaudeville flourished. In the early 1920s, five magnificent theaters opened at Playhouse Square--the State, the Palace, the Hannah Theater, the Ohio, and the Allen. Cleveland was also in the vanguard of the "little theater" movement with the establishment of the Cleveland Play House and the interracial Karamu Theater. After a period of decline in the 1960s and 1970s, live theater was reborn in Playhouse Square, which is now the second-largest performing arts complex in the country.


I can't really say that I come from theatergoing folk. My mother did take us once to the Hanna Theatre—to see Blackstone the Magician. and a grandfather shepherded us all to Cain Park one summer’s evening for the Czech national opera, Smetana’s The Bartered Bride. Movies were a different story, and I was taken by my parents for Saturday matinees at all the downtown movie palaces during their heyday, before the advent of multiplex cinemas. That was about it until the obligatory high school field trips to the annual Shakespearean offerings of the Cleveland Play House.

When I was finally ready for theater, however, I soon discovered just how much Cleveland had to offer. There were touring Broadway shows at the Hanna, classics and contemporary drama at the Play House and Karamu, the golden age of American musicals at Musicarnival, and entertaining comedies both old and new on community stages. As public interests and tastes broadened, new groups appeared to serve them: Great Lakes Theatre, Dobama, Beck Center, and many more. Later, becoming involved in the field of local history, I naturally began collecting materials on the rich tradition of the stage in Cleveland. There was clearly enough to fill a book, yet there was none covering the subject in its entirety—hence, Showtime in Cleveland.

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