Theater Talk: Michael Murphy on Shea's 95th anniversary and the big question: When will it open?

Jan 15, 2021

Impresario Michael Shea, a "larger than life" character in the history of theater, opened "The Wonder Theater" on Jan. 16, 1926 (95 years ago Saturday) to bring vaudeville and Hollywood silent movies (accompanied by a mighty Wurlitzer organ) to 4,000 patrons at a time. Saved from the wrecking ball in the 1970s by concerned citizens led by Kurt Mangel and expanded later to handle large Broadway touring shows, it's constantly under renovation supervised by Doris Collins. Michael Murphy, president of Shea's Performing Arts Center, spoke with Theater Talk.

Shea's Buffalo Theatre (now called "Shea's Performing Arts Center") celebrates its 95th anniversary on Saturday, January 16, 2021.
Credit sheas.org

In the conversation, Michael Murphy speaks about a secret passageway that led from Michael Shea's office to the mezzannine, so that he could avoid encounters as his staff would say "Oh, you must have just missed him." (Murphy claims to have never used it.) 

The theater originally would combine live vaudeville acts interspersed with Hollywood movies. In answer to Peter's question "So what killed vaudeville?" Professor of Theater History Dr. Anthony Chase added that during the Great Depression of the 1930s  it was much more economical to show movies than to hire live performers (and Michael Shea would often pay above the going rate to get the top name stars of the day).

Michael G. Murphy
Credit sheas.org

And, in answer to the big question as to when Shea's would re-open and Broadway touring shows would return, Michael Murphy referred to Dr. Anthony Fauci who said that if we can get to 85% immunity, and if theaters had the right ventilation systems, then theaters could reopen in the Fall of 2021. So, start thinking like HAMILTON: "I am not throwing away my shot."