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Friday, September 9

Explore + Learn Historical Tours Just Announced

Hear the story of the 1878 theater, designated “An American Treasure” by the National Park Service and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Learn about its award-winning renovations and restorations, celebrated patrons and performers.

The fun-for-all-ages behind-the-scenes tour of the 1878 “majestic Music Hall” (The NY Times), includes backstage and dazzling “enchanted forest” lobby (Boston Globe) “a fantastic experience – a chance to learn more about this special landmark in our community!” - Seacoast resident Thomas Pistole

The Explore + Learn program of The Music Hall, the performing arts center with two theaters in downtown Portsmouth, announces its 2011-2012 schedule for Historical Tours of its landmark Victorian theater at 28 Chestnut Street. Beginning Tuesday, October 18, the behind-the-scenes tour of the Historic Theater, designated An American Treasure, will run the third Tuesday of each month at 5:30 pm. Running approximately 75 minutes, the tour includes visits to the backstage area where 1901 Vaudeville era “technology” is still in use, the antique front of house dating to 1878, and the enchanting lobby renovated with great flair in 2008.

Arranged and guided by Music Hall Historian Zhana Morris, also the theater’s production manager, the historical tour paints a full picture of the history of the treasured theater, including the tales of sailors who rigged the theater in the late 19th Century, its flashy and famous owners, and stars across three centuries. Its performers and writers have ranged from Mark Twain to Wynton Marsalis, from David McCullough to k.d. lang—and its landmark setting has seen all manner of productions from circus acts to comedy to classical ballet. Visitors will see the passage of time through the building’s award-winning restorations and renovations which have brought back details dating back to 1878 and 1901, the hall’s periods of architectural significance.

“What a fantastic experience!” said Seacoast resident Thomas Pistole after his first historical tour this summer. “I couldn’t believe we were there two hours. Thanks for the chance to learn more about this special landmark in our community.”

First stop is the Beaux Arts lobby which has been heralded in the regional and national press as “jaw-dropping” (Traditional Building magazine) and a “a one-of-a-kind surprise…. a world class space.”(Portsmouth Herald). The 2,600 square foot space, including the box office, lower lobby, restrooms, elevator and coat check, reflects the Beaux Arts beauty of the theater above and showcases the theater’s history in a bold and theatrical way while offering striking 21st century amenities. Since the Lobby opened in 2008, it has been compared to the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany, the design of ships that once filled Portsmouth’s harbor, the lushness of turn-of-the-century Colorado gold rush hotels, and steelwork of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

The tour continues into the theater’s auditorium and up to its magnificent horseshoe balcony.  There the main attractions are the restored decorative paintings on the ceiling dome and the proscenium arch adorned with cherubs. The extraordinary decorative artistry had been covered over and forgotten for decades, the work of original owners of The Music Hall and artisans from 1878 to 1901. Visitors gain insight into the paintings’ history and their one-of-a-kind discovery in 2007 —a find architectural conservators at Evergreene Painting Studio called “so dramatic, it takes your breath away.”

Finally, visitors are invited backstage to view antique riggings still operating today. Merging a colorful past and present, the tour provides visitors with unique perspectives on yesterday, today, and the future of the oldest operating theater in northern New England.

Said Morris, “The artists who come here today are amazed, first, at how beautiful the theater is and, second, how we operate simultaneously in the old world and the new world in terms of technology and architecture. When they see the packed audiences and hear the acoustically perfect sound that comes with our 1878 design, they are even more aware of what a gem this Historic Theater is. Our guest book is full of quotes worthy of framing. All of them encourage us to keep up with our work restoring the theater.”

To Purchase Tickets

Historical Tours of The Music Hall’s Historic Theater will be held October through May on the third Tuesday of each month: October 18, November 15, December 20, and, in 2012 - January 17, February 21, March 20, April 17, and May 15. Tour tickets are $7.50 ($5 for members) and can be purchased in advance online, at 603-436-2400, or on the day of the tour at the box office, 28 Chestnut Street, Portsmouth, NH. Box office hours are noon-6:00pm Monday through Saturday.