Monday, October 31, 2011

There's Something About Mary (And It's Not Scary)

The Grand Opera House burned down and was rebuilt as The Orpheum in 1928
 With Halloween upon us, our thoughts turn to the spookier side of life. Here at The Orpheum, some creepy history lives close to the surface year round. Like most old buildings, The Orpheum has a long memory, and not all of it is pleasant.

A spritely man sporting a bow tie, glasses, and curled mustache, Vincent Astor has a long history with The Orpheum. Since the late 1960s he has worn many hats here, from serving popcorn when The Orpheum was a Malco movie theatre, to manager, to organist. The last role remains his favorite. When asked if he'd be interested in talking to us about The Orpheum's spookier side for this blog post, his first question was if the organ would be available. Sadly, it had been put away in the basement for Tosca's performances over the weekend, but Vincent was still willing to talk ghosts.

When people think of Orpheum ghosts, Mary is often the first one to come to mind. But according to a team of parapsychologists from the University of Memphis who performed an investigation at The Orpheum several years ago, Mary is only one of several Orpheum spirits. This is backed up by accounts from many employees over the years. One of these other spirits is said to dwell in the Upper Gallery. House manager Stanley Hightower once bolted from that area after seeing a luminous figure making its way down the aisle. Current building manager Richard Reinach spoke of a particularly creepy encounter several years ago during a bomb sweep of the building prior to a visit from Anwar Saddat's wife. "It was just me, a cop, and the bomb sniffing dog, everyone else was cleared out of the building. We go up to the Upper Gallery, and the dog just lays down and won't move. We're trying to drag him, get him up the stairs, but he's not having it. This is a trained dog. We all just left, we didn't want to be there anymore." Others spoke of feelings of sadness and discomfort in the women's bathroom on the gallery level. "I've heard people call her Eleanor, but I don't have anything to back up that name. She's just very unhappy." When asked for details, Vincent is reluctant to talk about her. "Once I was changing a light bulb in that room, and I just had this feeling, like sticking your hand in cold liver. It was awful."

But when it comes to discussing The Orpheum's most famous ghost, Mary, all of his reluctance vanishes.

"Her story isn't a gory one. It's very sweet."

Stories about Mary first began to circulate years ago. Workers heard a high, girlish voice in empty hallways. Tools were moved when backs were turned. A little girl in a white dress and braids was spotted in the lower gallery box, third row, which is now known as her favorite seat. Although "C5" is  what her favorite seat is called most often, it hasn't actually been C5 since the Malco folding seats were removed during the first major renovation in 1986. "It's not a good seat for watching" says Vincent. "You see everything at a slant. But it is a great seat for being seen, and I think that's why she likes it."

Vincent and Mary have known each other for years. He and some friends performed a seance on The Orpheum stage in April 1979, using a Ouija board and some atmospheric blue light. Her name and the date "1921" appeared over and over. Vincent decided to play the organ. What happened next was frightening. From The Orpheum History:
Teresa Spoone was with a small group of people.  They were in the theatre late, and they also were listening to Vincent Astor play the organ.  Each time he played Never Never Land, the theatre became ‘deathly cold,’ as Spoone describes it.  A couple of people in the group noticed a faint light dart in from the lobby and jump down behind some seats in the back.  Spoone admits that she was ‘scared to go into the lobby, because I knew something was out there.  It was just on overpowering feeling.’  Upon looking in the lobby Spoone and two others saw a little girl with brownish hair dancing in the distance.

Against her will, Spoone felt compelled to go to the little girl.  This was ‘ extremely frightening,’ she said ‘ because while my mind was telling me there’s no such thing as a ghost, something was drawing me to this particular spot.  You just see this form of a little girl and you have to go to her.’  Spoone made it halfway up the center aisle before she caught herself’ It was like she was calling me. That really scared me, because I felt if I went near her, I’d never come back the same.”

Two members of the party did, however venture into the lobby.  When they got there, the apparition disappeared.  At this point a furious rattling and rumbling began in the broom closet just off the lobby.  Neither of the two could muster the gumption to open the door and look into the closet.  They quickly returned to the others.  The rattling stopped.  But the little girl returned.  All in all, the appearance lasted for over 45 minutes.  The intense feeling of being watched, and the cold, persisted for the remainder of their stay in the theatre.
Although the experience was startling, Vincent doesn't think Mary is dangerous or scary. "We think she died outside the theatre, wandered in, and decided to stay. She doesn't mean any harm."

When asked about why spirits find the Orpheum so attractive, Vincent smiled.

"When actors get on the stage here, they're spending a lot of energy to make you, the audience, believe something that isn't really happening. When the audience comes inside The Orpheum, they suspend their belief at the door. And when those two energies meet at the floor lights, anything can happen."

Some believe The Orpheum rests on powerful ley lines, making it an attractive place for lonely spirits. But as Vincent explains, the source for some of the spooky occurrences may be a bit more mundane.

"I used to see this flash of light fly through the theatre, and could never explain it. Until one day, a bus drove by the front of the building and I saw how its windows caught the light, beamed it through the glass, and finally came in the theatre through a cracked door. I was pretty excited when I figured that out." Later, he takes us to the Upper Gallery, where several staff members have reported uneasy feelings and negative experiences "If you stand here and lean back and forth, you can tell that the floor on this level is actually tilted. If you're not aware of it, it can really make you feel off."

Vincent Astor playing "Never Never Land"
Of course, not everything that happens here can be so easily explained. And although Vincent tells me that during the last ghost investigation he was involved with here an investigator claimed that they had helped Mary "move on", he thinks she's very much still present. "She likes it here. It's a place for magic and make believe, and she chooses to be here. It's a good place." Before we go, he plays "Never Never Land" on the piano (a poor substitute for his beloved Wurlitzer organ, sadly). Still, as the last bars drift away into the silence, he smiles. "She was listening, I could tell."

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

PASSPORT: A Celebration of Memphis’ Music History

As part of The Theatre’s Positive Memphis campaign, The Orpheum is pleased to announce the unveiling of The Memphis Music Passport Program, an interactive guide to the many area attractions that celebrate the history of Memphis music. The program encourages native Memphians and visitors alike to discover the magic of the many historical and musical treasures the city has to offer.

These special limited edition keepsake passports contain information about eight of Memphis’ most renowned musical attractions along with special offers, such as buy one get one free admission. Participating attractions in the Passport Program include Graceland, Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Sun Studio, Rock ‘N’ Soul Museum, Beale Street, The National Civil Rights Museum, Backbeat Tours, and The Orpheum Theatre.

“The Orpheum’s Positive Memphis campaign began back in 2006”, said Kanette Rodgers, Vice President of Marketing.“Our president, Pat Halloran, along with our board of directors, felt The Orpheum should take a leadership role by allocating time and resources to help focus attention on all the positive things about our great city.”

Since 2006, The Theatre has identified and recognized community leaders through The Orpheum’s Memphis Hero’s program. This project has promoted area museums, restaurants, and attractions through paid media and The Orpheum’s website, social media channels and weekly e-blasts.

 “With shows like MEMPHIS and Million Dollar Quartet both gracing The Orpheum’s 2011-2012 Broadway lineup, it seemed natural to focus this year’s Positive Memphis campaign on our rich musical heritage.”, said Rodgers. “After all, the international tours of MEMPHIS and Million Dollar Quartet will spotlight Memphis, Tennessee as an exciting, vibrant travel destination, resulting in future tourism revenue for years to come.”

 Memphis Music Passport may be picked up at The Orpheum Theatre Box Office, The Orpheum Theatre Box Office inside The Booksellers at Laurelwood, The Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau, or at the concierge desk during any performance at The Theatre. Passport holders are encouraged to have their Passports stamped at each attraction. In addition to a sense of civic pride, those who visit all of the attractions and receive their stamp may bring their completed passport to The Orpheum Box Office to receive their limited edition Passport Program t-shirt.

 Participating Attractions & Passport Discounts:
  • Graceland - 50% off the Graceland Platinum Tour
  • Stax Museum of American Soul Music - Buy one, get one free admission
  • Sun Studio - Buy one, get one free admission
  • Memphis Rock ‘N’ Soul Museum - Buy one, get one free admission
  • The National Civil Rights Museum - Buy one, get one free admission
  • B. B. King’s - One free cover and half price appetizer
  • Backbeat Tours - Buy one, get one free Memphis Mojo Tour
  • The Orpheum Theatre -Buy 1, get 1 free ticket to any Family Series show

Stop by The Orpheum Theatre box office (9am - 5pm) at 203 S. Main to pick up your FREE passport and after you've collected all your stamps, bring it back and you'll receive a free commemorative t-shirt!

 email: with questions or for more details.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

MEMPHIS: Composer David Bryan and Writer Joe DiPietro visit Stax

The creative team behind MEMPHIS the musical visited the Stax academy and museum during the tour launch at The Orpheum Theatre in Memphis, TN.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

MEMPHIS in Go Memphis!

Stage Review: 'Memphis' is rocking, footapping entertainment
by Christopher Blank

Sunday night's official opening of "Memphis" at the Orpheum theater, where the Tony-winning Broadway musical has been newly staged for the launch of its national tour, finally brings locals face-to-face with the cartoon-colored confabulation of history built upon the sexy premise that rock and roll music was, at the onset of the civil rights movement in the 1950s, a bridge between the races.

The silhouette of the old Memphis & Arkansas Bridge that hovers over the stage is both a fitting symbol and also one of the few real-life landmarks referenced in a show that is, to borrow an expression used by the lead character, a "fantastical" representation of the city and its past.

No doubt, the production opens to the most critical audience of its tour -- a theater full of strong, and well-informed opinions on the subject of Memphis.

Judging by the enthusiasm of Sunday's audience, most will agree that "Memphis" is genuinely entertaining. David Bryan's Tony-winning score, played by an onstage band, has catchy, hummable hooks and a pop sensibility that draws liberally from gospel, R&B and rock genres. The music practically compels listeners to clap along, shout "Amen!," and even join along in the singing. If the anthemic tune "Memphis Lives in Me" doesn't make you feel like you're on the front row of a Lee Greenwood concert while he's singing "I'm proud to be an American" as the fireworks go off, then someone should probably check your pulse.

It's also easy to find consensus on the show's moral lesson: racism does indeed suck. And with racist attitudes of the 1950s serving as the primary antagonist in "Memphis," the characters are so sympathetic simply because their struggle is axiomatic to us in more enlightened times.

The show opens in an "underground" all-black nightclub on Beale Street. "Ain't no white folks here, 'cause they're too damned scared," says one patron just before a young white man named Huey Calhoun comes slinking down the stairs. Grabbing the microphone, he makes a case for why he should be allowed to stay. Black music is the "music of my soul," he avows.

He's attracted to more than just the music, however. The club owner's sister, Felicia, captures his heart through her singing voice.

To continue reading, please visit the official Go Memphis homepage or click here

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

MEMPHIS Bridges Flash Mob

Performances of Memphis the Musical are leaving audiences cheering and asking for an encore, but Saturday night's performance had a different twist. Thanks to some Memphis teens from the Bridges group, it was the stars who were left amazed. FOX13's Mearl Purvis was there for their flash-mob performance.

Monday, October 17, 2011

MEMPHIS: Creative Duo Lead March at Peabody Hotel

Joe DiPietro and David Bryan can write and compose a Tony Award-winning musical but do they have what it takes to be Duckmasters?

MEMPHIS: Cast at Graceland

The Cast and Crew of MEMPHIS, the musical, went to Graceland on their day off from rehearsals. Thank you to the staff at Graceland and Big Jim Sykes at Elvis Radio. The MEMPHIS tour launches October 14-23, 2011 at The Orpheum Theatre!