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Sydney’s Capitol Theatre began as a market space in 1892 selling produce and hay (that’s where the name of the area ‘Haymarket’ comes from).
The markets weren’t as economically successful as the council hoped though, and soon they began looking for a more lucrative use for the space.
In the early 20th century, the space was converted into a ‘hippodrome’, which means a space big enough for a hippo. Okay, maybe not quite. It’s actually a word used to describe a theatre or stadium for circuses and other popular events.
The venue was used by the Wirth Bros. Circus and included a 12×3 metre pool used by the circuses seals and polar bears.
Fun fact – this tank still exists at the current Capitol theatre with the new floor being built right over top.
The building was remodelled as a picture theatre in the late ’20s, with the official opening night of ‘The Capitol’ on the 7th of April 1928.
The design was a unique concept of the time called an ‘atmospheric theatre’. The beautiful starry sky effect that makes the Capitol Theatre so unique is because of this atmospheric design, utilized to make audiences feel like they were watching a film in an elegant outdoor garden.
Due to the financial difficulty of the great depression, the theatre closed briefly at the end of 1932 before reopening in April of 1933 to screen B-Grade films.
Fun Fact – five atmospheric theatres were built in Australia during this time and the Capitol Theatre is the last one remaining.
The first musical performed at The Capitol was Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar in 1972.
Despite a supremely successful run, during this time the original ‘atmospheric’ elements were removed and the theatre was run-down and in need of funds that were just not available. The future looked grim for this once beautiful theatre and by the early ’80s, it looked like the Capitol would be torn down.
It was thankfully saved by the Heritage Conservation Council, and in the early ’90s underwent a $30 million restoration process to bring The Capitol back to its former glory. It reopened in 1995 with the Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil masterpiece Miss Saigon, and has since staged some of the biggest Broadway blockbusters including The Lion King, Aladdin, Love Never Dies and Kinky Boots, as well as playing host to the prestigious Helpmann Awards for several years.
We’ve put together a playlist to celebrate the impressive history of this iconic Sydney theatre and the home it has become for some of our favourite musicals. Take a listen and make sure to take your seat at this historic theatre at one of the upcoming shows with our Theatre Guide.