The Folly Theater has been at the vanguard of Kansas City performing arts since it opened in 1900 as the “largest and most comfortable” vaudeville house in the Great West. Designed by Kansas City's famed architect Louis Curtiss, the hall received rave reviews for its excellent acoustics, high style, and intimacy. Throughout her first four decades, the Folly stage welcomed revered performers, including the Marx Brothers, Humphrey Bogart, Shirley Booth, Jack Dempsey vs. Jack Johnson, and Gypsy Rose Lee.
Facing a wrecking ball after years of misuse, civic leaders Joan Kent Dillon and William Deramus III rallied to rescue this beautiful theater in 1973. In June 1974, the Folly was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and in 1975 the real work began. Funds were raised, roof leaks were fixed, the building was secured, and a deep cleaning commenced which included removal of nine metric tons of pigeon droppings from the building. The doors reopened permanently in November 1981 under the management of Performing Arts Foundation of Kansas City, a nonprofit corporation. Since then, the theater has welcomed appearances by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Gregory Hines, Barack Obama, Patti Lupone, Yo-Yo Ma, Oleta Adams, and many more. Renowned flutist Sir James Galway knighted the Folly as “Kansas City's Carnegie Hall.” But perhaps Oleta Adams said it best: “Performers really believe that the Folly Theater's walls still contain the souls of all the performers who've been here.”
In 2016 the theater began extensive work to bring “The Grand Lady of 12th Street” into the 21st century. After $6.9 million in renovations including new seats, carpet, handrails, hardwood floors, and curtains; renovated balcony lobby and bar, restrooms, and 2nd floor lounge; updated energy-efficient HVAC system; the addition of Wi-Fi access points and digital signboards; and more, the Folly's historic warmth, elegance, and design remains as a glimpse into the past but with the comfort of present-day amenities.
Today, the Folly Theater strives to make the arts accessible and accepting through diverse programming. The theater presents Kansas City's longest running Jazz Series, dating to 1982, as well as an Americana Series and an education-enriching Kids Series. A popular venue among rental clients, Folly audiences also enjoy classical music, dance, drag shows, comedians, social media influencers, and podcasts. There is something for everyone at the Folly.