Curtain to rise on new Lyric Theatre
Hamilton’s historic Lyric Theatre is about to be reborn.
In name, anyway.
A year after the vaudeville-era building was torn down, the Lyric Theatre name is being resurrected through the purchase of another venerable city performance venue, the Westside Concert Theatre.
On Friday, local theatre producers Rick MacKenzie and Patrick Brennan bought the 300-seat building, which started life a movie hall in the 1930s, from fellow Hamilton arts stalwarts Colin Lapsley and Loren Lieberman, executive director of the Festival of Friends.
MacKenzie said he wants the King Street West theatre to honour the mandate of its nearly century-old namesake, also known as the Century, on Mary Street.
“We want to anchor what we do in the spirit of vaudeville,” he said, referring to the variety show performances popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
MacKenzie envisions at least one night a week reserved for variety shows featuring emerging local performers who want to tread the boards. Larger music, theatre and dance productions will likely fill the new Lyric Theatre’s weekend bill.
“We want to showcase all of the great talent we have right here in Hamilton,” he said. “We want our emerging artists meeting up with master artists.”
MacKenzie declined to say what he paid for the aging former movie hall, but estimated he and his partner will probably spend a total of $600,000 on the building, including major renovations.
There is plenty to fix.
“The building needs some tender loving care, no question,” he said, pointing out the leaky roof alone will likely cost $100,000 to repair.
The original exterior of the two-storey building is partially covered and mostly painted black, a look MacKenzie would like to change. “It’s looking pretty tired at the moment,” he said. “We’d like to make it friendly and appealing.”
Parking could also be a challenge.
The building has no lot of its own, but MacKenzie hopes to reach an understanding with local business owners interested in catering to theatre customers.
He also noted King Street is well-served by public transit and will be in a “fantastic position” should the much-debated LRT line become a reality.
One thing MacKenzie isn’t worried about is red tape.
Former owners Lapsley and Lieberman battled the city over the zoning of the Westside, which didn’t allow for a bar licence even though the building had started out as a theatre.
The zoning was eventually amended, but only after months of lost shows.
Lieberman declined to comment on the history of the theatre or his reasons for selling, calling the move a “simple real estate transaction.”
The new owners may eventually seek a bar licence that allows them to serve a full-capacity crowd of 300 people, MacKenzie said.
Right now, the 8,400-square-foot facility’s licence only allows alcohol to be served when the 180-seat “cabaret configuration” is in use.