Savannah Theatre: Savannah's, and the Country's, Oldest Continuously Operating Theater Site


The Savannah Theatre, located in downtown Savannah, sits on the same site as a theater that opened in 1818. The buildings on that site have been continuously operated as theaters ever since. The theater is in the heart of the historic district within walking distance of all of Savannah's historic attractions, including Factor's Walk, Forsyth Park and River Street. The theater is immediately accessible from Interstate 16.

The original theater on the site opened in 1818. The building was designed by William Jay, a prominent English architect who worked for years in Savannah. Jay designed some of Savannah's finest buildings, including the Owens-Thomas House and the Telfair Mansion, now part of the Telfair Museum of Art. The building held 1,000 patrons and was ornately decorated in gold and green paint, fluted columns with gilt capitals, a painted ceiling and a painted curtain that was shipped from New York. The theater survived the 19th century despite financial crises, the Civil War and several fires in the city. In 1906, however, the original building was destroyed by fire.

The building burned again before its current incarnation was built in 1948. The newest building is in the Art Moderne style, a sleeker, plainer version of Art Deco. It is clean, white concrete with a curved marquis, but one of the original walls from 1818 remains inside the building. The theater operated as a movie house for years, and then as the sometime home of a local theater company. The theater's financial situation was uncertain, until new owners bought it in 2002 and completely renovated it, redoing the interior, the plumbing and the mechanical systems.

A theater company from Branson, the show capital of middle America, was looking for a new home when they found the Savannah Theatre. The company decided to run the same type of shows they produced in Branson - musical reviews of oldies and broadway tunes. In August of 2002, the company opened with "Lost in the 50s, '' which ran for over a year. The company has produced a series of similar shows ever since, including "Jukebox Journey,'' "The Beat Goes On,'' Hooray for Hollywood,'' and "A Christmas Tradition.'' The shows are attended equally by locals and out-of-town tourists. Mike Meece, the theater manager says, "We were counting on 90 percent of our business being tourists. It never dawned on us that 50 percent of our business might be local folks.''

The Savannah Theatre is wildly popular. Of 28 reviewers on a well-known travel website, 27 rated the experience as "Excellent,'' and the other person rated it "Very Good.'' There are, literally, no negative comments about the shows or the theatre. It is one of the most popular attractions in Savannah. One reviewer says, "I smiled so hard my face hurt!'' Others mention the talented and friendly cast and the beautifully renovated theater. Many echo this person, saying, "This is the one place you have to go when visiting Savannah.'' Meece, the manager, says gratefully of his customers, "Seven years later, we still have people saying `I just want to thank you one more time for coming to Savannah.'''

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