San Francisco’s Curran Theatre was named after the the original owner of the theater, Homer Curran. Prior to his building the current theater, Curran operated a different theater for many years bearing his name. However the first Curran Theatre went by different names both before as well as after that time. However the current theater has always gone by Curran Theatre. The theater’s design drew its inspiration from six separate Broadway houses. In February 1922 the theater opened. Initially it was thought of as a Shubert house before showcasing Theatre Guild presentations. Following that the theater had a close association with Civic Light Opera. The opera also had operations in Los Angeles. Many prestigious bookings were obtained by the Civic Light Opera in addition to their own show productions featuring leading stars.
Curran also is known as the writer of the “Song of Norway,” book, which was a popular musical. He was also co-writer of “Magdalena,” a less successful play. Eventually Curran left San Francisco and moved to southern California. He rented out theatrical lighting there.
The theater’s ceiling over the main lobby has a very distinctive look. The ceiling was painted by hand to resemble wood. A wood grain was fashioned into the plaster using steel wool before it was painted. There is a marble floor in the main lobby. However it was covered with carpeting long ago. Standing on marble can be uncomfortable and when it rained it made the lobby slippery and colder. The lobby floor has plugs built in for inserting stanchions for hanging the theater ropes for sectioning the lobby off.
It’s claimed that the neon sign for Curran Theatre is the first one in San Francisco, replacing the original sign for the Curran which was made of light bulbs). Prior to the first booking of “Hello Dolly!,” modifications to the loge section of the theater were made. The loge section originally resembled the sectioned areas with their moveable chairs in the boxes. There is still evidence of the box loges in the remaining metal railings near the loge section in addition to the decorative plaster viewed from below. This modification was made due to the increase in seating capacity of 10 seats in the highly coveted area. The original main floor interior lobby is no longer in existence. There were minor changes made originally for accommodating the sound booth that was installed without a decrease in the seating capacity in the Orchestra. The lobby space eventually was used for installing a bar bar in addition to handicap accessible restroom.
The auditorium, until the middle 1990’s was more illuminated. In the auditorium are two murals that aren’t usually noticed unless there is enhanced lighting. On each side they rise up from the theater’s lower mezzanine.
There are two front curtains to the theater. There is a green decorative fire curtain and behind that a gold curtain. Traditionally musicals utilized both front curtains. Five minutes before a show would start the first curtain was raised. The theater also had two rooms for checking coats. One was south of the interior lobby on the main floor. The other was located next to the ladies’ restroom on the balcony. In addition, the mezzanine lobby had two telephone booths. Actually the booths were small rooms that had formal doors on them. Currently the telephone booths and coat check rooms are used as storage areas. There was also a central vacuuming system in the theater. There is still evidence of the system from connection points near the floor on the theater walls. The chandelier for the theater was built by a Mission Street, San Francisco company.
Arthur Mayer is honored with a plague that is mounted on the L-M-N boxes entrance. Mayer observed the theater as it was being built. Curran hired him for the staff for opening night. He worked at the theater well into his nineties.
San Francisco opera, for many years, performed their series “Spring Opera” every year at the Curran.
Civic Light Opera in 1977 moved their operations over to Orpheum Theater. James M. Nederlander and Carole Shorenstein Hays, towards the end of 1977, took over the Curran operations. They launched Best of Broadway, debuting with John Raitt on a Shenandoah national tour, as well as the debut on the west coast of Annie. Shorenstein, Tony winning producer, later changed her organization’s name to Theatre. The Curran has been operated as the West Coast’s premier theater destination. The theater in the 1950 was used for exterior and interior Broadway theater scenes in the film All About Eve. In the movie the original interior lobby on the main floor is seen. The theater scenes, except dressing room interior scenes, were all filmed in the Curran. The theater in the program is used as for the A.C.T. Setting. However the A.C.T., in reality, operated from Geary Theatre, adjacent to the Curran. In some shots the Geary is also visible.
Stars that have performed at the Curran include Judith Light, Stockard Channing, Mercedes McCambridge, Elizabeth Ashley, Amanda Plummer, Al Pacino, Brian Dennehy, Karen Valentine, James Earl Jones, Maxwell Caulfield, Stacey Keach, Estelle Parsons, Jack Lemmon, Mary Alice, Andrea McArdle, Leslie Uggams, Ann Jillian, Paxton Whitehead, Lee Roy Reams, Ron Holgate, Florence Lacey, Joel Grey, Mickey Rooney, Ann Miller, Marcel Marceau, Zeljko Ivanek, Jonathan Silverman, Elizabeth Franz, Joyce Van Patten, Matthew Broderick, Herb Edelman, Agnes Moorehead, Jean Fenn, Ethel Waters, Werner Klemperer, Ricardo Montalban, Jane Connell, Smothers Brothers, Ben Harney, Georgia Brown, Rob Marshall, Patti LaBelle, Lucie Arnez, Laurence Luckinbill, Victor Garber, Keene Curtis, Sally Ann Howe, Richard Kiley, Dorothy Loudon Mae West, Angela Lansbury, Florence Henderson, Ian McKellen, Richard Taylor, Rex Harrison, Katharine Hepburn, Mary Martin and Lenny Bruce. Carol Channing in addition to performing on multiple occasions at the Curran, also saw her first stage show there.
Throughout Curran Theatre history, national Broadway tours also have performed there. “The Phantonm of the Opera” by Andrew Lloyd Webber was hosted by The Curran for five years. It became the longest US run outside of New York City for the show. Other major long runs include “Jersey Boys” and “Les Miserables.” The current rival for “A Chorus Line” started at the Curran in 2006, which was quite fitting since after first opening in 1975 on Broadway, the first “A Chorus Line” touring company launched from the Curran, consisting of most original cast members. The show throughout the years has made its return to the Curran and had a number of successful runs.
Spring Awakening, Tony winning musical, played a national tour in September 2008 at the Curran. In 2009, a national RENT tour, starring Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal, played an engagement of two weeks at the Curran.
The national tour for In the Heights, Tony winning musical, will be playing in 2010 from May 12 to June 13 at the Curran. In August 2010 the Dreamgirls highly acclaimed national tour will begin performances at The Curran.