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THE CAPITOL THEATRE

The Capitol Theatre holds all types of shows from performances by the Ballet to Broadway and West End musicals. Although guests usually only visit the theatre to watch a performance, you can also join a tour which are usually in the morning. Tickets for shows and the tours can be booked online in advance. The Capitol Theatre is a short eight-minute walk from the hotel when you exit out our front doors onto Liverpool Street.

 

THE HISTORY

The Capitol Theatre is a heritage-listed theatre located at 3-15 Campbell Street, Haymarket, in the Sydney central business district, Australia.

Circus Days

The building itself began its life in 1892 as the New Belmore Markets and was designed by a council architect, George McRae, who also prepared the design for the Queen Victoria Building (QVB). In 1916 the building was converted to a hippodrome designed specifically for the Wirth Bros circus. Part of the building specification was the ‘Seal Pit’ which was reinforced concrete water tank 12 metres in diameter with a depth of 3.6 metres. It was used for performances by seals and polar bears. The tank was hydraulically controlled with a platform that could be raised from the base to form a cover that doubled as a circus ring. The tank still exists although is covered by the new floor.

Picture Palace

By 1927 the circus became financially unviable and the Wirth Bros initiated the idea of converting the building into a theatre. John Eberson, a renowned American designed of theatrically themed theatres was commissioned to create the Capitol Theatre. The reproduction statues and architectural props were manufactured in the US and shipped to Sydney, Australia for reassembly which was supervised by Sydney theatre designer Henry White.

Glory Days

In 1928 the theatre opened, people were attracted to escape to a different world, they were captivated by the whimsical decor and the lavishness of the surroundings. They went to hear the orchestra and the mighty Wurlitzer, to watch the newsreel and soak up everything Hollywood had to offer. But for the Capitol, the glory days were over before they had started. Greater Union was hit hard by the depression and by 1933 when the theatre was converted for ‘talkies’ (movies with sound), it was already showing second rate movies.

Changing Times

In 1945 there were 151 million admissions to Australian cinemas, the biggest year in Australian movie history, but by 1958 Australians had been seduced by television and more than 20% of Sydney cinemas had closed. It was a grim time for many theatres and without major investment the Capitol’s future looked bleak. In 1972, Harry M. Miller presented Jesus Christ Superstar which had a successful two-year run but time, lack of funds and vandalism had taken their toll and the Capitol was in ruins.

Saving an Icon

By the end of the 1970’s it seemed the only real value was the land, the Sydney City Council considered demolition to allow a new lyric theatre to be built on the site. But in 1981 Australia’s last remaining atmospheric theatre was snatched from the jaws of the bulldozer by a Heritage Council conservation order and plans were made to restore the building and create a world-class lyric theatre.

Restoration

For the first time in its history the theatre underwent a complete and thorough restoration that took two years and cost over $30m to complete. The orchestra pit was expanded with space for 110 musicians. New dressing rooms and technical areas incorporated part of the old tunnels used by the animals in the theatre’s former life as a hippodrome. The fly-tower was extended to become 30 metres high and 37 metres wide extending nine metres into Hay Street making it one of the largest in Australia. In July 1995 an acclaimed production of Miss Saigon put the Capitol back on the world stage. Finally, the Capitol had the second chance it deserved and Sydney has a theatre to be proud of.

 

Need somewhere to stay close to all the action? Spend the night at Rydges Darling Square! Located in the centre of all the action. Check out our accommodation packages options today or contact our friendly team on +61 2 8268 8888.

 

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