Theatre Tours

2019 Theatre Tours - Philadelphia, PA
2019 Theatre Tour information is tentative.
All venues, dates, times and order of visits subject to change.

Pre-Conference Theatre
Ramble Sponsored by:


Pre-Conference Theatre Ramble, Sunday, July 14

Grand Opera House, Wilmington, DE ●
The Playhouse on Rodney Square, Wilmington, DE ●
Ambler Theater, Ambler, PA ●
Keswick Theatre, Glenside, PA ●
Plays & Players Theatre, Philadelphia, PA ●

Conference Theatre Tours, Tuesday, July 16

Academy of Music
Merriam Theater

Conference Theatre Tours, Wednesday, July 17

Forrest Theatre
Walnut Street Theatre

Last updated: 07.11.19

Grand Opera House, Wilmington, DE

Photo credit: Joe del Tufo, Moonloop Photography

The opulent and historic Grand Opera House has been a landmark for the residents of Wilmington and the surrounding region for more than 140 years. Opened in 1871 as a home for the Grand Lodge of the Masons for the lordly sum of $100,000, The Grand has played host to thousands of renowned entertainers and performing artists over the years, including Ethel Barrymore, Buffalo Bill Cody, John Philip Sousa, political cartoonist Thomas Nast, and the Jubilee Singers of Fisk University.

Designed by Delaware architect Thomas Dixon in the Second Empire style, The Grand features a distinctive façade of cast iron adorned with Masonic images. The first season of operation presented more than seventy performances that included everything from serious dramas to minstrel shows to lectures and exhibitions. In 1909, The Grand was briefly converted into a regular stop on the vaudeville circuit and then transitioned into a movie theater. Eclipsed by the more modernly lavish and larger Aldine next door, The Grand was eventually reduced to screening second-run horror films and Westerns. The building was allowed to fall into decline and sadly closed its doors in 1967.

“To destroy it would be a crime, to restore it would be a triumph”

So said Bill Frank of the Morning News, and other prominent citizens of Wilmington were thinking the same. On December 22, 1971, the hundredth anniversary of its original grand opening, The Grand Opera House was again packed with people and excitement, as plans were unveiled to renovate the theater to its former splendor. Over the next few years, a thoughtful and complete restoration was undertaken. The Grand was rededicated on February 1, 1973, and began again to present the finest performing artists from around the world. Delaware historian Carol Hoffecker, described the project as "a Cinderella story, the most spectacularly successful preservation effort in Wilmington's history."

The Grand and baby grand are beehives of artistic activity. The Grand presents more than 80 shows each season, ranging from the latest rock and comedy stars to classical music, dance, traditional American music, jazz, world arts, and family and variety performers as well. The Delaware Symphony, Opera Delaware, and First State Ballet Theatre are all in residence at The Grand, presenting full schedules in each of their disciplines. Between The Grand, its resident performing companies, and rentals, the building hosts more than 300 events a year bringing more than 120,000 people into downtown Wilmington and through its doors.

Visit their website for more information.

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The Playhouse on Rodney Square, Wilmington, DE

100 men. 150 working days. 100+ years of continuous Broadway entertainment. It all began with the dream of three DuPont executives, John J. Raskob, Pierre S. du Pont, and R.R.M. Carpenter, who wished to provide Wilmington, Delaware with “the finest entertainment possible.” Their plan was to construct a theatre large enough to accommodate any New York Show as a “dress rehearsal venue,” as well as providing the community a location for non-profit events, lectures, and business meetings.

The theater was designed by Charles A. Rich with the Wilmington firm of Brown and Whiteside appointed to assist. Contractor J. A. Bader was awarded the project with a winning bid of $122,960. On April 15, 1913, construction commenced to prepare land for ground breaking. A 100-man crew worked for 150 consecutive days to construct the theater that would be called the Playhouse. It was one of the largest theaters of its time using over 750,000 bricks and 2,000 tons of concrete. Measuring 38 feet deep, and 85 feet wide, the stage could easily accommodate almost any traveling show.

On October 15, 1913, DuPont employee A.C. Bonnell purchased the first ticket. Despite the success of its early years, the 1920s and 1930s introduced a dip in the economy as a result of the Great Depression. New management under the famous Shubert Brothers and a line-up of stars such as Fred Astaire, John and Ethel Barrymore, Helen Hayes, or Orson Wells helped keep the theater alive. The Wilmington community also showed its continued support at a city Chamber of Commerce meeting by guaranteeing continued subscription purchases, ensuring the theater’s viability. New manager Raymond N. Harris assumed the role into the mid-1940s before DuPont assumed full management in 1946.

In 2015, The Grand assumed operation of its sister theater on Market Street, The Playhouse on Rodney Square (formerly the DuPont Theatre), where we continue to present the Broadway in Wilmington series, as well as other, non-Broadway entertainment. The Playhouse has a similarly rich heritage as The Grand.

Today, the century-old Victorian gem proudly remains the oldest legitimate, continually operating theater in the country. The theater has hosted shows such as Jersey Boys, Chicago, Cats, Anything Goes, RENT, Les Miserables, and Mamma Mia. The theater has hosted hundreds of celebrity performers and speakers such as Bette Davis, Fred Astaire, Orson Welles, John and Ethel Barrymore, Carol Channing, Ben Vereen, Christopher Plummer, Kathleen Turner, Lena Horne, and many many more. The theater was named the winner of the Delaware News Journal Reader’s Choice award for “Best Live Arts Venue” in 2011."

Visit their website for more information.

Photo credit: Joe del Tufo, Moonloop Photography

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Ambler Theater, Ambler, PA

Photo credit: Ambler Theater Facebook Page

Taken from the Ambler Theater website...

The Ambler Theater was opened by its owner Warner Bros. on December 31, 1928, with the movie "Our Dancing Daughters" starring Joan Crawford. An exuberant Spanish Colonial style architecture was employed to create a magical facade with Terra cotta, spacious lobbies (entry lobby, main lobby, vestibule lobby, then foyer), an ornate auditorium with 1,228 seats, and a Gottfried pipe organ (which is long gone). The builder, Phillip Harrison, previously built the Seville (now Bryn Mawr) and Lansdowne theatres, which may explain the Spanish Colonial similarities. Prior movies in Ambler had been shown in an opera house, a second story Civil War era theatre.

Due to the competition from TV and the multiplexes, the Ambler was no longer viable to continue as a for profit theatre with mainstream movies and ceased showing 35mm films about 1969 to 1970. By this time the auditorium's side walls and front part of the ceiling were draped over. From the 1970's until 1997 the Ambler was operated as a Christian cinema, showing films in 16mm including The Robe. The Ambler closed again, waiting re-use. The Christian group sold the theatre in 2001 to businessmen, who in turn sold the theatre to the nonprofit: Ambler Theater, Inc.

The non-profit organization devoted two million dollars to renovations. Paint colors were chosen to match the original colors. No original carpet was found, so carpet was replicated from photographs with the appropriate colors selected. As the original ticket booth was long gone, a cheap modern ticket booth was removed and replaced with a retro style ticket booth. The ornate new ticket booth took its inspiration from the auditorium's organ lofts.

Built in the former rear of the orchestra seating area are two 'black-box stadium seated auditoriums, equipped with digital surround sound. One auditorium has 150 seats, the other has 110 seats. The Ambler reopened February 28, 2003, with those two auditoriums showing the movies Nicholas Nickleby and Real Women Have Curves.

As the original 30 foot towering vertical neon sign had been demolished in the late 1960's, an exact replica was constructed by Bartush Signs and funded in part by a Keystone Grant from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. The neon tower was installed in September, 2005 and officially lit on October 21, 2005.

Renovation of the original front section of the auditorium began March, 2007. It reopened October 5, 2007 with the film Into the Wild. The original proscenium arch opening hosts the large movie screen (30 feet wide for 'scope films), ornate decoration on the side walls, and organ lofts. This auditorium with stadium seating for 265 people has a ceiling with what looks like wood beams, but in reality they are made of plaster.

Recent renovations have restored the marquee to its original 1928 majesty complete with neon trim and chaser lights. Additional fundraising is being undertaken for more renovations, including restoration of the facade.

Visit their website for more information.

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Keswick Theatre, Glenside, PA

Taken from the Keswick Theatre website...

The Keswick Theatre first opened its doors on Christmas Night, 1928. Nationally recognized as the most comfortable, acoustically perfect listening room in the entire Philadelphia market, the Keswick was designed by acclaimed architect Horace Trumbauer (who also created the Philadelphia Museum of Art!). Initially a combination vaudeville/movie house, the Keswick hosted such legends as Stepin’ Fetchit, Paul Robeson and Ina Ray Hutton (Betty’s sister) with her all-girl band. In 1955, the theater was remodeled into a cinemascope film house, hosting the area’s premiere releases of most of the big-budget movies from the 1950s and ’60s. In Spring 1980, the Keswick closed its doors as a movie theater, slated for demolition. The Glenside Landmarks Society, a not-for-profit group,formed with the hope of restoring it to its former grandeur to operate as a performing arts center. It re-opened in 1981 with a sold-out concert by Fred Waring and the Young Pennsylvanians. Over the next four years, stars like Roberta Peters, Carlos Montoya, Theodore Bikel, Buddy Rich, Lionel Hampton and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band graced the stage. The Keswick was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983, but the non-profit group wasn’t to meet expenses, and closed the theater in December 1985.

The Keswick opened its doors again in March 1988, under private ownership. They successfully tackled problems associated with older buildings, drastically increased the activity at the theater and successfully established the Keswick in the eyes of the public. During that 15-year ownership, the Keswick blossomed in reputation and renovation. Establishment of a restoration fund allowed for more than a million dollars in upgrades, including extensive updates in electrical and heating/ventilation systems, reupholstering seats, roof replacement and repair, extensive facade repair, and restoration of the original ornamental plaster. The Keswick grew technologically, as well, with state-of-the-art sound and light equipment and a computerized ticketing system. The growth was recognizes as the Keswick joined legendary venues like The Chicago Theatre, Beacon Theatre and Fox Theatre in “Pollstar’s Top 50 Theater Venues.” The Keswick became one of the Central Atlantic states’ most active and diversified venues, presenting internationally-acclaimed performers geared to virtually every taste and interest.

Visit their website for more information.

Photo credit: Keswick Theatre Facebook page

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Plays & Players Theatre, Philadelphia

Photo courtesy of Plays & Players Theatre

Plays & Players began in 1911 as a social club devoted to expanding and developing new theater experiences for and by its membership. The first President, Maud Durbin Skinner, was the wife of the famed American actor Otis Skinner. The Plays & Players Theatre, then called the “Little Theatre of Philadelphia,” first opened its doors in 1913. The theatre was founded by Beulah E. Jay and her husband Edward G. Jay, Jr. with acquaintance F.H. Shelton in an effort to produce “American plays of ideas,” an underrepresented genre at the time. During its 100 years of performing, Plays & Players theater company has produced innumerable notable performances — some of the most noteworthy being the world premiere of the acclaimed Broadway play Stalag 17 in 1949, and a childhood performance by actor Kevin Bacon in Member of the Wedding in 1974. The first season of Plays & Players included An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde and The Learned Ladies by Moliere, both still popular plays today.

In the 1960′s Plays & Players decided to grow from being a members-only club to an all-inclusive one, and opened its productions to the entire community. In the 70′s the Plays and Players Children’s Theater was added to its busy schedule. On March 14, 1973, Plays & Players Theatre was entered in the National Register of Historic Places. Over the course of the twentieth century, Plays & Players expanded its repertoire beyond community theater to include workshops, classes and more. In 2011-2012, Plays & Players celebrated its 100th season of performances by local artists in Philadelphia.

Once an exclusive club, Plays & Players has grown over the years into a professional theatre devoted to supporting established and emerging local artists in practicing and performing their craft. A historic company existing in a vibrant modern arts scene, Plays & Players continues to change and grow with the times while always keeping an eye on its rich and powerful past.

Plays & Players Theatre is one of the oldest theaters in continuous use in the United States. It was designed and constructed in 1912 by famed Philadelphia architect Amos W. Barnes. Beginning as The Little Theatre, it has also been known as the Delancey Street Theatre (1920) and The Philadelphia Theatre before being known as Plays & Players Theatre.

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Academy of Music, Philadelphia

Excerpted from the Academy of Music website...

The Academy of Music is currently owned by The Philadelphia Orchestra and managed by Kimmel Center Inc. but the long-term caretaking of the building is overseen by a third entity: the Academy of Music Restoration Fund Office, a non-profit with its own board of trustees and a mission to raise all the money required for the ongoing capital projects that ensure the structural integrity and long-term preservation of a National Historic Landmark.

Visit their website for more information.

Photo by Paul Loftland for Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau

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Merriam Theater, Philadelphia

Photo from the Merriam Theater website

Excerpted from the Merriam Theater's Wikipedia entry...

The Merriam Theater, formerly the Sam S. Shubert Theatre, is Philadelphia’s most continuous location for touring Broadway show theatre. It is located at 250 South Broad Street within the Avenue of the Arts cultural district of Center City, Philadelphia. The Theatre was built by the Shubert Organization in 1918. In 1972 the theater came under the ownership of the Academy of Music, and was owned by the University of the Arts. In November 2016, it was purchased by the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts.

Visit their website for more information.

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Forrest Theatre, Philadelphia, PA

The Forrest is a quintessential "road house", used primarily by touring theatre and dance companies. It was built in 1927 to compete with rival A.L. Erlanger’s planned new playhouse at Market and 21st Streets. The Shuberts intended the new playhouse--named after Edwin Forrest, the great Philadelphia born tragic actor of the nineteenth century--to surpass Erlanger's new theatre in terms of size and splendor.

The Forrest is one of architect Herbert J. Krapp's final theatre designs and also one of his more elaborate. Built at a cost of over $2,000,000, it boasted many modern conveniences including wider seats in the orchestra, a smoking room for both men and ladies in the lower lounge and state of the art ventilation and electrical systems. The interior was sumptuously decorated with gilt Adam detailing and silk brocade. The dressing rooms are housed in a separate building and connected by an underground tunnel to the Forrest’s stage.

Many musicals, dramas and comedies have been launched from the Forrest Theatre. Yiddish Theatre, one man shows, dance programs, Gilbert & Sullivan productions and the Philadelphia Orchestra have all graced this stage.

In 2017, an extensive redecoration to the Auditorium and Mezzanine Lounge was completed as well as improvements to the air conditioning and heating systems. An earlier renovation in 1997 included barrier removals and accessiblity improvements including the addition of a handicapped accessible bathroom. The Grand Foyer was redone in the early 1990's by famous theatrical scenic designer Oliver Smith.

Visit their website for more information.

Photography by Whitney Cox. Courtesy of Shubert Archives.

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Walnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia

Photo by Mark Garvin

Standing at the corner of Ninth and Walnut Streets in Philadelphia for two hundred years, Walnut Street Theatre's National Historic Landmark structure has housed two centuries' worth of American popular entertainment. Most noteworthy American actors of the 19th century and many from the 20th century have appeared on stage at the Walnut. Some of the Walnut's shining stars include: Edwin Forrest, Edwin Booth, Edmund Kean, the Drews, the Barrymores, George M. Cohan, Will Rogers, The Marx Brothers, Helen Hayes, Henry Fonda, Katharine Hepburn, Marlon Brando, Jessica Tandy, Audrey Hepburn, Sidney Poitier, Lauren Bacall, George C. Scott, Jane Fonda, Robert Redford, Julie Harris, Jack Lemon, and William Shatner. Over the years audiences have clapped and cheered for circus, opera, vaudeville, lectures, music, dance, motion pictures, and of course, the live theatre productions for which it is best known today.

When the theatre opened its doors on February 2, 1809, the pounding of hooves mingled with the shrieks of delight from the crowd as teams of horses circled a dirt riding ring. The theatre's career as an equestrian circus did not last long, however, and by 1812 the building had been converted to a legitimate theatre, featuring a real stage where the ring had stood. The Walnut's first theatrical production, The Rivals, had President Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette in attendance on opening night.

Walnut Street Theatre is home to many firsts in the American theater scene. In 1837, the Walnut was the first theatre to install gas footlights, and in 1855, the Walnut became the first theatre to install air conditioning. The first copyright law protecting American plays had its roots at the Walnut. The curtain call, now a tradition in every theatre, started at the Walnut with the post-play appearance of noted 19th Century actor Edmund Kean.

The Walnut remained a significant player on the American theatre scene throughout the twentieth century. Purchased by the Shubert Organization in the 1940s, the theatre was home to many pre-Broadway try-outs of plays that would go on to become American classics, such as A Streetcar Named Desire starring Marlon Brando, A Raisin in the Sun featuring Sydney Poitier, and The Diary of Anne Frank featuring Susan Strasberg.

The Walnut began its most recent incarnation as a self-producing, non-profit regional theatre when Bernard Havard took the helm in 1982, founding the Walnut Street Theatre Company with a vision of once again creating theatre in a space that is so steeped in the American theatre's traditions and history. Today, you can experience the realization of that dream when you attend a live performance.

Visit their website for more information.

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