|Orpheum Theater in Wichita, KS|
A recent blog shared Oscar Wilde's visit in 1882 to theaters in Kansas. This week I am going to share a visit to another one of the great old theaters in Kansas to attend a showing of Home on the Range.
First, a little about the theater. The Orpheum Theater opened September 4, 1922 and was designed by architect John Eberson to create the impression of a Spanish garden, with sidewalls depicting mock tile roofs, window grills, and wooden lattice arches across the ceiling. When it closed in 1976, its appearance and the standard of its entertainment had deteriorated significantly. For nearly two decades the theater remained dark, but today it is Wichita's Non-Profit center for the performing arts, concerts, films, and more. It was decided to open the theater and complete renovations as money was available, most of which has come from private grants and individual donations. The Orpheum is like a grand old lady with a few runs in her stockings, her hat slightly askew, and rouge that can't conceal the wrinkles, but the elegance underneath all of that remains.
Our evening at the Orpheum began with meeting the cast of Home on the Range in the lobby before viewing the movie, after which the cast assembled on the stage to speak about their experiences making the movie, why they were drawn to the project, and their careers in general. Starting at the left is Michael Martin Murphey, who not only played Judge John Harlan in the movie but was an early supporter of the project and of the restoration of the Home on the Range cabin. Next is Darby Hinton, an actor from early childhood who portrayed the bartender in San Antonio, Albert Fraidlich. Well known from playing Newly in TV's Gunsmoke, and a highly collected artist, Buck Taylor is seated in the center of this group and portrayed Trube Reese in the movie. Next is Rance Howard, a life-long actor who portrayed Cal Harlan. Rance has the further distinction of being the father of actor-director Ron Howard. At far right is Mathew Greer, who played the old cattle trail cowboy Bill Jack Curry. In the movie, Mathew sang the version of the song Curry remembered from hearing it on the trail.
Picking up from Mathew, (holding the microphone) in the next picture is Mitch Holthus, who played the announcer in the radio studio, an appropriate bit of casting, since off screen he is known as the 'Voice of the Chiefs' in Kansas City. Mitch was raised in Smith Center and his father has been a driving force behind the saving of the Home on the Range cabin. To his right is Mark Mannette, who played the lawyer-investigator, Samuel Moanfeldt, who determined the true origins of the song. An actor and a professor, he bears a remarkable resemblance to the real Moanfeldt. Seated at far right is Director, Ken Spurgeon.
Our evening was not over, for we enjoyed the delight of front-row seats for a concert by Michael Martin Murphey. While he may be best known for his sad ballad Wild Fire, the talents of this singer-songwriter extend well beyond that mega-hit song. Even more to be admired by Kansans is his generosity toward the preservation of the Home on the Range cabin near Smith Center.
We were in for an additional treat when Michael invited his son to join him on the stage. I had never realized that the clear pitch-perfect voice that sings Western songs so beautifully is the voice of a genuine Irish tenor--although his name certainly should have been a clue! That Irish heritage is further honored by his son's artistry on the Irish harp, and we had the opportunity to not only hear him accompany his father but also to enjoy a solo on his beautiful instrument. Our evening at the Orpheum was definitely one to remember!
You may click on the images to enlarge them.
You may wish to visit www.lonechimneyfilms.org to read more, and to link with sources to buy the Home on the Range CD at that site. You may also visit www.wichitaorpheum.com to learn more about the theater and see upcoming performances appearing there.