June 27, 2013

A Review of the Opening of the Uptown Theatre

From the archives...

House Reviews: Uptown

Source: Variety, 26 August 1925, p. 28.
Eclipsing in size, splendor and impressiveness anything that has been built in the last few years of hectic theatre construction, this new house is not only beyond doubt the most gorgeous movie palace in the world, but is so far above its neighborhood that the North Side will be years before it is worthy of it. It has been aptly described as "an acre of seats." The capacity is a hundred or two more than the Chicago, with nearly 4,500 seats.

The Uptown can be compared to the fabled grandeur of the old Alhambra, palace of the Moorish monarchs in Spain.

The "dress rehearsal" was held Monday to an audience whose presence was requested on engraved invitations. This audience was probably as smart and show-wise a congregation as could be gotten into one house, and the production department of Balaban and Katz undertook to fool this audience by giving them pseudo-inside stuff on a B. & K. rehearsal. Actually it was nothing more than a carefully rehearsed rehearsal designed as a gag.

The house was far from finished for the opening. Many of the staircases were uncarpeted and without banisters. The box office had no windows or other equipment installed; the men's lounge on the main floor was not opened, and there were ladders and tools scattered about in all sorts of corners. Workmen in overalls were numerously present. It is said that the house will not be completely finished for at least another four months.

The house was well dressed with numerous stiff fronts. The mezzanine boxes were the only reserved seats, those being set aside for the more prominent city officials and executives. Following a short dedication address delivered by William Hollander, general director of publicity, the president of the Uptown Business Men's Association took the platform and delivered a short oration which was in the form of a glorifying tribute to the B. & K. organization and the aggressive Sam Katz, who seems to predominate every time the corporation is mentioned.

Nathaniel Finston, the musical director chosen to preside over the orchestra in its initial week, walked on to a great reception. The men were dressed in velour jackets and gray trousers, giving the orchestra a striking appearance, while Mr. Finston's introduction was made in a business suit. Perhaps the heavy rehearsals didn't allow him sufficient time to make the change. The orchestra ripped off a heavy overture, going through it without a mishap. But to make the dress rehearsal realistic several bars of the music where mistakes were supposed to have been made were repeated. This had a tendency to disturb the audience, who answered in applause.

Jesse Crawford, who bears the prominent distinction of appearing on the opening program of all of the B. & K. better houses, was slated to appear following the overture, but something went wrong with the organ and his solo was omitted to the disappointment of many. The Oriole Orchestra, permanently at the Edgewater Beach Hotel, formed one of the presentations. The boys' reputation carried them through from being a flop. This was due to the innumerable times that they were forced to stop in the middle of a number because there was a minor defect in the lighting. There had to be some interferences or else the novelty of the dress rehearsal would not have bene noted.

Even Frank Cambria, the producer for the B. & K. combination, was forced to laugh at some of the liberties taken in presenting this affair. So much time was wasted that Sam Katz sent back word to quit clowning and go on with the show.

At this time the invited guests started to walk out. The dress rehearsal so far was a fizzle as far as entertainment or novelty were concerned. A short news reel gave the audience a rest. A massive and pretentious presentation involving a cast of 30 and labeled "Under Spanish Skies" was easy to look at from a scenic and electrical standpoint, but lacked substantial entertainment. A flock of ballet girls, singers, dancers, and a five-piece musical combination were employed in this stupendous extravaganza. There was little re-rehearsing here, as the affair was draggy enough as it was. It may shape up better with a few shows under their belt. The house was half empty when the curtain was dropped on the presentation that consumed about 35 minutes.

"The Lady Who Lied," the principal screen attraction, was billed as the world's premier showing. The billing was used for effect, as the feature had been exhibited in a nearby town six weeks before. This feature is a prolonged affair and would have had a more secure punch were it cut after the fourth reel.

The overture rang in about 8:30, with the feature leaving the screen three hours late. The acts should not be judged by this review, as it was supposed to be a dress rehearsal, and their respective performances were hindered by the frequent interruptions. But under normal conditions it could not turn out to be a show strong enough to qualify for the premier performance of this massive, attractive and gorgeous cinema palace. It is a monument to the North Side and a gold feather in the caps of the B. & K. organization. The appearance of the house will undoubtedly draw all the picture fans from the North Side, and will even steal some from other sections of the city. It is well worth the trip to look over the furnishings and architecture of the theatre.

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