Friday, August 3, 2012

Our Pot of Gold at the End of the...Pantages Theatre

If Judy Garland's Kansas farm had been located on Hollywood Blvd., she might have sung an "Over the Pantages" melody. Think gold, people. In fact, the Pantages Theatre--a beloved Art Deco building--shines bright...even after its first opening more than 80 years ago! 

A lot of love has been poured into renovating this famous theatre, which is--and always has been!--one of the  most beautiful theatres in town. And in a place that’s known for being over-the-top, that’s saying something, kid. Even folks that wouldn’t know art deco if it French-kissed them would know there’s something special going on here.

Our Pantages night started when Cori and I (Lara) dined at Cleo inside The Redbury (across the street from the Pantages) before heading over to the theatre for the premiere of the Tony Award-winning musical, Memphis. 

Over brussels sprouts (which Cleo, a new restaurant, is already famous for—trust us on this. Trust us. No, really. Trust. Your mother would be proud.), I gave Cori the Cliff’s Notes version of the Pantages' rich and colorful history.
Not your average brussels sprouts!
It was built as a movie palace (with some live entertainment) in 1929 by Alexander Pantages, a theatre impresario who apparently got to experience the Pantages’ big premiere (Floradora Girl, starring sassy Marion Davies, a brilliant comedic actress who most people know as the mistress of William Randolph Hearst)…by listening to it on the radio, as he was in jail after being accused of raping a seventeen-year-old. He was found guilty and sentenced to fifty years in prison, but then via a new attorney, he appealed, and was acquitted in a second trial.  

Inside the Pantages lobby! Glorious!
The Pantages was already considered a Hollywood landmark by 1932, when it was sold to Fox West Coast Theatres. Howard Hughes (think Leo in The Aviator) bought it in 1949 and moved his offices to the building (on the second floor). 

The Pantages hosted the Oscars from 1949-1959, and in 1965, Pacific Theatres began running it. In 1977, the Pantages as a movie theatre era came to an end, briefly closing and then reopening as a live theatre venue, with Bubbling Brown Sugar as the first production.

Nederlander Worldwide Entertainment runs The Pantages now, and I’m happy to report that the theatre is still so beautiful and lively. In fact, the Pantages helped spark the revival of the surrounding area. I visited it for the first time in 2000 to see the The Lion King (right after the theatre had a little freshening done in the form of a ten meeeeeeeeeeeeeeellion dollar restoration/upgrade), and I’m not sure if I was crying more over baby Simba being shown to the pride...or the ornate ceiling. 

Look up to see beauty all around!
I was completely overwhelmed with all the beauty. I mean, I’m from the swamps in Florida, where the biggest, fanciest thing that happened in my childhood was the opening of the new edition to the mall.  But seriously, we got to shop at The Limited, Express, and Contempo Casuals, plus a Spencer’s Gifts (rubber frog that farts, anyone?), so it was a big deal.

Cori and I finished our dinner and then tottered over in our stilettos for the Memphis Premiere. 

Diva Tip: Park the car in one of the lots around Hollywood and Vine, and have dinner at one of the fab restaurants (Delphine, Katsuya, Cleo, and more), within walking distance of The Pantages. Make sure to bring at least $10-20 cash for parking. Nothing is worse than having to ask a parking attendant, “Can I write a check?” and then being told "no," and then having to leave the car and walk around looking for an ATM in Hollywood at 11:30 p.m. Not that that ever happened to us. Ahem.

"Paparazzi!" Cori (left) & Kitty (right)
Since the Memphis musical centers around a disc jockey, the promoter had invited radio types like yours truly to walk the red carpet and be interviewed for their new live, red carpet, U-stream show (which is such a great idea—you could dress up at your house, have a glass of bubbly, and watch the red carpet arrivals from the comfort of your couch!) to talk about what radio has meant to us. 

Cori and I posed (I was grateful that I had caked on the powder foundation and Too Faced Better Than False Lashes mascara) as the flashbulbs popped, and then I did a quick interview with Broadway LA and KOST 103.5. I apologize to both interviewers for my brussels sprouts breath.  

Diva Tip: If you want to get some attention somewhere at a premiere, all you need is one photographer who knows you. Have him scream your name and start taking your pic, and everyone else will follow, as they’ll assume you’re a hot new star and won’t want to miss a chance at getting a shot of you.

We took in the gloriousness of the marble and bronze entrance, and then swept through the front doors to arrive in…deco heaven. As we made our way to the second floor and paused to take in the gold (the much gold...where's our pot?) and silver and carvings and statues and bronze and metalwork that comprise the spacious lobby, Cori (who is new to this style) turned to me and innocently asked, “Is this Deco or, um, Spanish Architecture?”  I don’t think I answered, as I was having an out-of-body experience.  But Cori, the answer is YES!
If you’re going to a show at The Pantages, allow yourself a good 20-30 minutes before the play starts to explore both levels of the theatre (there’s an upstairs restroom, btw, if the downstairs one is jammed).

Anybody have a mirror?
Make sure enter the downstairs ladies room to see the mirrors (but watch out for the toilet paper dispenser in stall seven, which fell on me!), which resemble a very glamorous hall of mirrors in a funhouse. You’ll see about 40 images of yourself with all the reflecting going on up in there, so it’s a good place to check the view from the rear and see how your outfit looks from all angles.  

And btw, a night at the Pantages is a perfect excuse to dress up! Being casual SoCal, you’ll see people in jeans, but Cori was in a slinky black dress and I had on a long, 1930s dress (shout out to Playclothes in Burbank), and we were far from the dressiest dames in the house.

The gold laced walls!
Walk into the dark, glittery bar (it’s to your left after you enter), and have a drink as you pretend it’s 1931 and Myrna Loy or Claudette Colbert is across the bar. And check out the mirror above the water fountain against the wall—it’s got flamingos on the glass! 

Diva Tip: If you don’t want to pay for a bottle of water (there’s a snack bar that sells water and soda and candy in the lobby), ask for a small cup and fill it up at the fountain. Just finish all your drinks before you go in to find your seat.  They spent ten meeeeeeeellion on a facelift, honey—they’re not going to let you spill your diet coke on the seat.  

And if you do cut it close because you’re chugging your Sprite in the lobby until curtain time, don’t go tearing down the aisle on the way to your seat—there’s a slope to that aisle that’s akin to coming down from a hike to the top of Runyon Canyon, so baby-step it to your seat, sister, and hang on to a friend (just don’t let her take you down with her).

Now that you’ve soaked in some glamour (we think some of the sheen from the lobby may have rubbed off on you), relax in your seat and take in the walls, ceiling, and stage. Maybe, like me, you’ll make a silent vow that you’ll be decorating your house Pantages-style DecoFab one day. 

Us taking it all in!
Settle in and let the cares of everyday life slip away as you watch something that will stir your soul. And maybe--just maybe--you'll feel alive in a way you might not have in awhile. Maybe it's the dressing up part. Maybe it's just escaping into a musical world for three hours. Or, perhaps it's just literally being surrounded by all things beautiful, like art deco, and taking time to sit back, relax, and enjoy it. 

Pantages Theatre
6233 Hollywood Boulevard  
Los Angeles, CA 90028
(323) 468-1770
Upcoming shows include The Book of Mormon, Peter Pan, Jekyll & Hyde, and Donny and Marie: Christmas in Los Angeles (I hope he wears his purple socks from back in the day. You will make the ladies very happy, Donny).

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