THE PANTAGES THEATREThis theatre opened on June 4, 1930. The opening program, hosted by Master of Ceremonies Al Jolson, featured MGM’s The Floradora Girl, starring Marion Davies; an edition of Metronome News; a Walt Disney cartoon, Slim Martin, “the Maestro of Mirth and Melody,” conducting the Greater Pantages Orchestra; and a Fanchon and Marco stage piece, The Rose Garden Idea.
Mixed bills of movies and stage companion pieces continued for the first two years of the theatre’s life by its managers, Rodney and Lloyd Pantages. At that time, the Fanchon and Martin live stage prologues were dropped, occasionally being replaced by locally produced extravaganzas. Other sorts of entertainment proved the theatre’s versatility: in 1940, for example, the Los Angeles Philharmonic played at the Pantages from January-April, featuring such conductors as Leopold Stokowski and such soloists as Sergei Rachmaninoff and Fritz Kreisler.
Howard Hughes, through RKO Pictures, acquired the Pantages as part of his national chain of movie houses in 1949. A contractual stipulation ensured that the name of its builder would be retained and thus it entered the decade of the 1950s as the RKO Pantages. Hughes even set up his own office upstairs. During that decade, the Pantages played host to Hollywood’s most spectacular annual event, The Academy Awards. The famous gold statuettes were handed out to fortunate winners each year from 1949 to 1959.
In 1959, Universal Pictures booked Spartacus into the Pantages as a sure-fire, long-run attraction, but only on the condition that the theatre’s capacity be scaled down -- from 2,812 to 1,512 seats. This was accomplished by building a wall around both extreme side sections of seats in the orchestra and by closing the second section of the balcony. Also, sometime during the 1960s, RKO elected to drape over all the exquisite architectural details around the proscenium and side stages. Though restructuring forced the Oscars to relocate, there were still star-studded evenings in store for the Pantages.
Pacific Theatre, operated by the Forman family, purchased the Pantages from RKO in December of 1967, after having run the theatre for two years on a lease agreement. Pacific briefly closed the house for refurbishing and a general relighting, including removal of the previous draping. The Pantages reopened, refreshed, again taking its place as one of the finest movie houses on the West Coast, and continued business as such for nearly a decade.
In January of 1977, the silver screen went dark for the last time, and work was begun on what would be a new life for the Pantages Theatre. The Forman family’s Pacific Theatres joined forces with the Nederlander Organization to bring back live theatre to Hollywood. Among the most influential producers and presenters of live Broadway theatre in the world, the Nederlander Organization lent its monumental expertise to the task and under the combined Nederlander-Forman aegis, the Pantages opened its doors on February 15, 1977 as one of the finest legitimate theatres in California, as patrons flocked to see the national touring company of the smash Broadway hit, Bubbling Brown Sugar. That year, the theatre was restored to nearly its original seating capacity for the Los Angeles engagement of Man of La Mancha, starring Richard Kiley.
From that time until the present, the Pantages Theatre has been the Los Angeles home for scores upon scores of legitimate theatre attractions, most of which have been large scale Broadway musical hits.
In 1994-95, La Cage Aux Folles became the longest running show in Pantages history, and also broke a number of Los Angeles theatrical box office records.
In 1996, the Nederlander Organization announced a new theatrical subscription series which would be a re-imagining of the long-standing Los Angeles Civic Light Opera. Broadway/L.A. was born, and it was dedicated to providing Southern Califonia with the biggest Broadway hits. Through these years, the Pantages Theatre has been home to such smash successes as Riverdance, The Phantom of the Opera, Hairspray, Les Misérables, and Movin’ Out, to name just a few.
During that same period, the Pantages Theatre was home to three independent long-running productions. Disney’s The Lion King opened the newly-renovated Pantages in late 2000 and went on to run 2-1/2 years, and it remains the longest-running show in this theatre’s history.
In May of 2003, The Producers – The New Mel Brooks Musical arrived at the Pantages, where it would call it’s home for the next 9 months.
Wicked played an initial visit to the Pantages in June-July 2005, and its limited seven-week engagement sold out before the curtain went up on its first performance. The local demand for Wicked was so strong that the show’s producers arranged to open a Los Angeles company of the show at the Pantages in February 2007, where the engagement is now in its second smash year.