We open our doors monthly for guided tours, taking visitors behind the scenes of this celebrated 1878 theater, designated An American Treasure by the U.S. Senate. Arranged and guided by Music Hall Historian Zhana Morris, also the theater’s production manager, the tour paints a full picture of the history of the hall, 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 have ranged from Mark Twain to Wynton Marsalis and David Crosby; Vaudeville acts with elephants to RENT the musical and violinist Joshua Bell. 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.
“The artists who come here are amazed at how beautiful the theater is and, how we operate simultaneously in the old world and the new in terms of technology and architecture. When they see the packed audiences and hear the perfect sound that comes with our 1878 design, they are even more aware of what a gem this is. Our guest book is full of quotes that are touching, all encourage us to keep up with our work restoring the theater. They love it.” – Zhana Morris
What You’ll See:
First stop is the Founders Lobby which has been heralded in the regional and national press as “jaw-dropping” (Traditional Building Magazine cover story)and a “a one-of-a-kind surprise…. a world class space” (Portsmouth Herald).The 2,600 sq. ft 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 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 – award-winning restorations unveiled to the public in 2006 and 2007. The extraordinary 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 called “so dramatic, it takes your breath away” (Bryon Roeselet, Evergreene Painting Studio).
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.