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The 5th Avenue Theatre is one of America's leading musical theater companies. We enrich the community we love with the art form we love—giving the Pacific Northwest a front-row seat to original powerhouse productions that go on to light up marquees and audiences all the way to Broadway. From the page to the stage, we bring passion and epic scale to every musical we create. With big talent. Bigger-than-life productions. And did we mention dazzle? As a nonprofit theatre company and our region's largest performing arts employer, we spread the joy of great musicals with people of all ages across our region and state.
Each year, we reach more than 75,000 young people through our nationally acclaimed education programs. Programs designed to develop new musicals ensure that the next generation of great musicals will be there to tell the stories that captivate tomorrow's audiences. On the national stage, we are a leading voice for the power of this American art form to lift the human spirit.
To nurture, advance and preserve all aspects of America’s great original art form: the musical.
After 11 months of construction, The 5th Avenue Theater celebrated its grand opening on September 24, 1926 with a Fanchon & Marco vaudeville production and more than lived up to its promise as a magnificent showplace. Under the guidance of architect Robert C. Reamer and interior designer Gustav F. Liljestrom, the ornate interior of the building was modeled after three of Imperial China’s most spectacular architectural achievements: the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heavenly Peace, and the Summer Palace. The theater was also considered a technological marvel at the time, thanks to its state-of-the-art sound, lighting and ventilation systems.
When moving pictures became popular in the 1930s, The 5th thrived as a movie palace, thanks mainly to the efforts of film exhibitor James Q. Clemmer. Known for his showmanship, Clemmer arranged to have an organ rise from the center of the orchestra pit during a film’s most suspenseful moment and ushers wore costumes that reflected each movie’s theme.
The recession of the 1970s, coupled with the popularity of television and the growth of movie complexes in the suburbs, put The 5th Avenue Theatre out of business in 1978. But a committed group of community leaders who envisioned bringing Broadway entertainment to Seattle responded by raising funds for a much-needed building renovation.
At the theater’s grand re-opening on June 16, 1980, actress Helen Hayes christened the stage with a kiss and declared it “a national treasure.” The 5th Avenue Theatre became Seattle’s premier home for Broadway shows, starting with the national tour of Annie. In 1989, The 5th Avenue Musical Theatre Company was established as a resident non-profit theater company and The 5th Avenue expanded its mission from simply presenting touring shows to producing Broadway-caliber productions of its own.
From the intricate grilles graced by Ho-ho birds to the coffered ceilings and the balcony walls covered with orange blossoms, chrysanthemums and lotus flowers, the interior of The 5th Avenue Theatre is awash in color, texture, and remarkable detail.
One of the most stunning features is the auditorium’s center dome, a replica of the dome of the palace throne room in the Forbidden City (only the 5th Avenue dome is twice the size of the original!). The “Pearl of Perfection” chandelier is held in the teeth of a great coiling dragon, which has five toes; each toe represents an evil spirit that must be vanquished.
The elaborate proscenium arch that frames the stage features numerous Chinese motifs, including bas-reliefs of the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace. Prominently placed on either side of the main staircase in the theater lobby is a pair of Fu Dogs. Fu Dogs like these have traditionally stood guard in front of China’s imperial palaces.
Several changes were made during the building’s painstaking renovation. The orchestra pit and auditorium seating were rebuilt, the dressing rooms were moved, and the technical systems updated. However, the furniture, fixtures and signage are all original. Even the paint was carefully restored to its original luster.
June 16, 1980, marked the theater’s rebirth and began a new chapter in Seattle’s arts community. Now a historic landmark, The 5th Avenue Theatre continues to thrive with the assistance of many generous donors and volunteers.
When The 5th Avenue Theatre was forced to close its doors in 1978, 43 local companies and community leaders joined forces to save the glorious, historical building. In 1979, this visionary group formed the non-profit 5th Avenue Theatre Association and raised $2.6 million for renovations.
Following a spectacular $2.6-million renovation, the theatre re-opened in 1980, more beautiful than ever and emerged as Seattle’s premier home for touring Broadway shows
In 1989, with the generous assistance of company sponsors, The 5th Avenue Musical Theatre Company was established. The new non-profit company expanded its mission to include not only presenting touring shows but producing top-quality musical theater productions of its own.
When the renovations of The 5th Avenue Theatre began in 1980, the community leaders who had raised the $2.6 million to make the renovation possible knew that not all of their plans would come to fruition. One change that couldn't take place was replacing the Theatre's aging vertical marquee. It had fallen into disrepair since its original placement in the 1930s, and it had to be removed as other repairs to the building were made.
Then in 2009, Christabel Gough (daughter of founding Unico chairman and famed Broadway producer Roger L. Stevens), contacted The 5th. Roger Stevens had brought such legendary shows as Tea and Sympathy, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Annie to Broadway; and he had been part of the original group that saved The 5th Avenue Theatre. His daughter wanted to memorialize her father and his good friend and key community leader Jim Ryan. She suggested that a great way to do so was to complete the Theatre's renovation by underwriting the cost of a new vertical marquee. "Going to opening nights with my father is such a lovely memory for me," recalls Gough. "It was like Christmas and New Year's all rolled into one, and the bright lights of the theaters were such a part of that."
Inspired by both the Theatre's original sign that hung at the entrance to the theater at its 1926 opening, as well as by its famous Chinese-inspired interior, the new marquee was designed by Eric Levine and Yusuke Ito of NBBJ and built by CREO Industrial Arts in Everett.
Featuring an aluminum frame that weighs a remarkably light 55,000 lbs. and energy-efficient LED illumination of approximately 2,000 lights, the new sign is state-of-the-art, yet respectful of the Theatre's illustrious history. And one last touch makes the sign particularly special: the “5th” at its summit rotates.
"We started with a white canvas, no clue what to do,” says NBBJ's Yusuke Ito. “The initial thing we did was say 'let's not think about the marquee; let's think about the history and aesthetics of The 5th and its interior design’. When we eventually looked at photos of the 1926 marquee, we had many ideas, but that was such an amazing design, we wanted to bring elements of that in too. I'm honored to have worked on this," says Ito. "I've seen a lot of shows at the Theatre in the last couple of years, and now it suddenly feels like it's my first time up on a stage. I'm excited to hear what people think!"
"We were thrilled when we were asked to participate in the production of such an iconic piece for the historic 5th Avenue Theatre," says Jeff Braaten, CREO's account executive on the project. "CREO does work throughout the country and around the world, but it's always more rewarding when you can participate in such a notable project right in your own backyard. It took extensive collaboration between the Theatre, NBBJ and CREO to produce.”
Because of a daughter's love for her visionary father, the new marquee is a sparkling beacon beckoning patrons to the theater and bringing renewed energy and life to downtown Seattle.
Come From Away – October 9 - November 4, 2018
Annie – November 23 - December 30, 2018
Rock of Ages – February 1 - 24, 2019
Little Dancer – March 22 - April 14, 2019
Urinetown – April 6 - May 26, 2019 * A Co-Production performed at ACT Theatre
The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical – April 23 - 28, 2019
West Side Story – May 31 - June 23, 2019 * A Co-Production with Spectrum Dance Theater