Nights to remember at Vancouver's Orpheum Theatre

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      As Vancouver celebrates its 125th birthday, the Straight takes a look back at some of the most memorable concerts to have taken place at the city’s iconic Orpheum Theatre. Not to be confused with a previous theatre of the same name, today’s Orpheum was built in 1927. A vaudeville house that became a movie theatre (where 1940s film star Yvonne De Carlo once worked as an usherette) and then a concert hall, it remains one of Vancouver’s most important music venues.

      Frank Sinatra, 1935
      Before he hit the big time, a 20-year-old Sinatra appeared at the Orpheum as part of a touring showcase of up-and-coming amateur singers, according to local historian Chuck Davis’s The History of Metropolitan Vancouver. The Rat Pack founder had won a radio contest, and sang with his band, the Hoboken Four, alongside 22 other young performers. He returned to the theatre in 1957.

      Bing Crosby, 1948
      As Davis recounts, the famed crooner and Hollywood actor was a frequent visitor to Vancouver and helped raise $22,000 for the Sunset Community Centre when he attended the community centre’s sod-turning ceremony and broadcast his network radio show from the Orpheum stage. Two years later, he helped officially open the centre by telephone from Los Angeles.

      Igor Stravinsky, 1952
      The great Russian composer conducted the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra at the Orpheum, after a UBC School of Music graduate, Colin Slim (who later donated a treasure trove of Stravinsky memorabilia to his alma mater), sent the composer a copy of an all-Stravinsky program in which he was performing. Stravinsky wrote back, noting that he had heard Vancouver had a decent orchestra, and inquired about conducting it. He returned in 1965 for another concert, his last appearance here before his death in 1971.

      Joan Sutherland, 1958
      According to Davis, the Australian coloratura soprano made her North American debut at the Orpheum as part of the first Vancouver International Festival (no longer running), launched for the B.C. centennial celebrations. As it happens, the singer, who passed away last year, shared her November 7 birthday with the theatre.

      Carmen McRae, 1987
      Vancouver Coastal Jazz and Blues Society’s John Orysik vividly recalls McRae throwing a fit and threatening to skip town after a limo driver dropped her off at the wrong theatre. “You could hear the screaming almost at the front of the house, and she was in the green room,” he says. Flowers and booze helped coax McRae to the stage, where she delivered what Orysik recalls as an uneven performance: “I think she’d gotten a little bit into the alcohol.”

      Cecilia Bartoli, 1992
      Vancouver Recital Society artistic director Leila Getz still thrills at the memory of hosting the mezzo-soprano’s Vancouver debut. Getz insisted on presenting the then-26-year-old Bartoli at the Orpheum, despite her still-burgeoning career. “I kept saying to my board, ”˜This is a talent that is so huge, to put her in the [Vancouver Playhouse] is absolutely a waste,’ ” says Getz. “And it was extraordinary.”

      Diana Krall, 1996 Before the jazz pianist and crooner became a star and married Elvis Costello, she was the opening act for the legendary pianist and composer George Shearing in a Vancouver International Jazz Festival concert. “She was absolutely enthralled to be on the same bill and the same stage as George Shearing,” recalls Orysik. “And after that, of course, she spread her wings and was alone on that stage.”

      Mstislav Rostropovich, 2003
      The great Russian cellist conducted the VSO one night in a program of Leonard Bernstein, Dmitri Shostakovich, and Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky and performed the Anton Dvorák cello concerto the following evening. VSO music director Bramwell Tovey calls him “one of the most profound musicians I saw on-stage.”¦I remember I sat in the empty auditorium when he conducted the orchestra in a rehearsal of Shostakovich [Symphony No.] 9. Of course, he knew Shostakovich personally and he talked about the piece, and that was very special.”



      virgil miner

      Mar 31, 2011 at 4:43pm

      how about tom waits.... bitches get your heads out of Sir William Herschel's planet

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      Brian G'froerer

      Apr 3, 2011 at 11:38am

      In regards Jessica Werb's article 'Nights to Remember at Vancouver's Orpheum Theatre':

      Yes, Frank Sinatra's appearance at the Orpheum in 1935 was with the Hoboken Four, but this group was a singing quartet, not, as stated in the article, a band. At that time, a 'band' would have been a Big Band or Dance Band, comprised of around sixteen players on saxes, trombones, trumpets and a rhythm section of piano, bass and drum set.

      Google the 'Hoboken Four' in regards to Sinatra and you find..... '1935–40: Start of career, work with James and Dorsey. Sinatra got his first break in 1935 when his mother persuaded a local singing group, The Three Flashes, to let him join. With Sinatra, the group became known as the Hoboken Four, and they sufficiently impressed Edward Bowes. After appearing on his show, Major Bowes Amateur Hour, they attracted 40,000 votes and won the first prize — a six month contract to perform on stage and radio across the United States' [and Canada, so it seems]. 'Sinatra left the Hoboken Four and returned home in late 1935'.

      Please present the facts/terminology correctly.

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