Located in Savannah, GA, the Savannah Theatre is one of the oldest extant continually-operating theatrical venues in the United States, alternately functioning as a movie theater and live performance venue since its opening in 1818. Established in 1733, Savannah is the oldest city in the state of Georgia and is notable for its unique master-planned city design, structured by Georgia colony founder James Oglethorpe.
Drawing upon Enlightenment-era ideas of civic virtue and equity, the city is divided into wards arranged around central public squares and is noted today for its large number of preserved historic buildings contained within its Historic District. The Savannah Theatre was designed by William Jay, a British architect responsible for several other historic buildings in the city, including the Telfair Mansion and the historic Owens-Thomas House. Its grand opening on December 4, 1818 featured two live stage performances, the comedy “The Soldier’s Daughter” and the farce “Raising the Wind.”
During its early days, the theater changed hands several times, including multiple sales at auction, before being incorporated into a stable stock company in 1838. The theater has sustained major structural damage several times in its lifetime, including damage from an 1898 hurricane that tore off its roof and flooded its auditorium and a major fire in 1948 which prompted a remodeling to the theater’s current Art Deco facade and styling. Until the 1948 fire, the venue was host to a number of live theatrical performance companies, showcasing the work of performers and playwrights such as Fanny Davenport, Oscar Wilde, and W.C. Fields. Following the 1948 fire, the theater reopened in 1950 as a movie house, which it operated as until 2002.
Shows and Attractions
In 2002, the theater was renovated and reopened as a live performance venue, offering musical revues and theatrical performances performed by a resident repertory company. The theater’s lobby now features a small museum area chronicling the venue’s history, highlighting preserved newspaper clippings, photographs, and other artifacts.
All shows are performed by the theater’s resident repertory company, which includes nine cast members and a small musical ensemble, including a piano accompanist, a saxophonist, a lead guitarist, and a drummer. As of 2017, Charleston, South Carolina native Charles Ancheta, who previously served as the music director and composer-in-residence for the Historic Dock Street Theatre, serves as pianist and music director for the company. Shows offered as part of the theater’s 2017 performance season include Rewind!: The Soundtrack of Your Life, which presents a musical retrospective of the past 40 years of Top 40 pop music, the Savannah Live variety revue, and the two-hour A Christmas Tradition holiday concert. Past performances include the Viva Vegas tribute to performers such as Judy Garland, Elvis Presley, and the Rat Pack, and the Broadway musicals 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.
Performances are scheduled year-round, with weeknight performances available on many nights between March and December. Matinee performances are available on select Saturdays and Sundays throughout the performance season. Discount group ticket reservations are available for groups of 20 or more, and free attendance is offered for active military members and their immediate family members.
The Savannah Theatre is located in the city’s Chippewa Square, which is noted as the site of Tom Hanks’ park bench narration scenes in the feature film Forrest Gump. Though the park bench used in the film was a movie prop and not part of the Square’s park, the prop can be seen on display at the Savannah History Museum, located inside the Central of Georgia Railway passenger shed in the city’s Tricentennial Park. The park bench prop is considered among the most famous pieces of movie memorabilia in modern film history and has made Chippewa Square a popular spot for sightseeing and photo opportunities.
Chippewa Square is one of 22 preserved public squares that comprise the city’s National Historic Landmark District, one of the largest districts of its kind in the country. The district encompasses 1,300 acres of land and is notable for its quaint atmosphere and large collection of 18th- and 19th-century Greek Revival, Georgian, and Gothic buildings. Other Chippewa Square attractions include the Independent Presbyterian Church, also featured in Forrest Gump, and the historic First Baptist Church and Philbrick-Eastman House buildings. Several restaurants on the square offer after-theater service, including McDonough's Restaurant and Lounge and the Six Pence Pub British taproom. Attractions in surrounding public squares include the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace, commemorating the life and legacy of the founder of the Girl Scouts of America, the Colonial Park Cemetery, and the art museums and historic mansions of Telfair Square.
222 Bull Street, Savannah, Georgia, 31401, Phone: 912-233-7764
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