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The Fabulous Fox Theatre

ONE SINGULAR SENSATION

Article by Liz Attaway

Photography by Liz Attaway

The glow of the sign can be seen down Peachtree Street for as far as the eye can see, while the marquee rolls with show titles and draws your eye into its beautiful dance of light. The Fox Theatre has been a staple in Atlanta since 1929, bringing joy and song to the city for decades with everything from musicals, to plays, to dance, and bands. Its stage holds a childhood full of unforgettable memories for Atlantans like me mesmerized by its grand foyer, memorable Turkish-Egyptian over-the-top décor, and that overall Fabulous Fox Theatre mood. One of the most beautiful places you can find here, they’ve actually made it even more beautiful and ornate during the pandemic, while upkeep on this place is daunting, they do it impeccably. Seeing the theater’s beauty from every angle really was a treat, from the top of the balcony to standing on the stage looking out, seeing the fly system, backstage, and where the organ comes up into the orchestra cannot be any more surreal. To say this made my year would be an understatement, so let’s go through the entire journey from start to finish.

Storytime: The Fox Theatre is where I was mesmerized by Phantom, felt the joy of dance, and sang along to some of my favorite bands! Every year since I was young my mom would take my sister and me, and now my niece to see a play or a musical, so I grew up on Phantom, Les Mis, Cats, and all the greats of Broadway. So, to stand in the spot that these actors stood, or music legends Trent Reznor, Billy Corgan, and Chris Cornell sang their greatest hits was an experience, to say the least. Standing on that stage and taking in the majesty and beauty from that angle, you see just how lucky we are to have such a gem in our city. But enough about my experiences, let’s see everything they’ve done during the pandemic to enhance your experience.

Starting with the moment you enter the doors, the fountains were meticulously cleaned, and they found more blues in the design, as well as the glass above it, which was red but masked by years of dirt. It’s now a beautiful piece of artwork! Once you enter, the whole foyer area has more color and vibrancy as they’ve cleaned the walls and enhanced the lighting. Then, on the second floor, the mural that stands above the orchestra middle entrances and is better seen from the mezzanine, they’ve cleaned it up and it has more blues and pops as a piece of art. Did you know that most of the furniture that peppers the floors and restrooms are original pieces from the 1920s and are rotated to get restored as needed? No wonder those pieces are so beautiful!

If you’re a balcony lover like me, I believe the front row of the balcony has the best views, that’s where I sat to see Les Miserables in high school with my French class. You could watch as Jean Val Jean rotated on the circular floor so well! They’ve done some major clean-up work on the awning and tent-like structure above the top of the balcony. Original to the theater, the tent mimics a cloth structure but is actually hard plaster. They have cleaned it and added a varnish so that you can see the red and yellows for years to come. It’s so much more noticeable! Plus, fun fact: They found a Coke bottle up there that they think could be from when it was constructed because it was left on the small ledge that exists up there and no one had been up there in years.

Another addition is the restoration and resurgence of their acclaimed organ, Mighty Mo. And I got to see and hear it IN PERSON! The day we were touring, they were tuning it, note upon note. Organist Ken Double was there and you could hear him working with someone below. This 100-year-old Moller Organ is a pride and joy of The Fox Theatre and they’ve restored it to match the original 1929 look, repainted, stained, colored, repatterned all to match the original 1929 design. Plus, internally, it got a full rehabilitation so that it can play on into the next decade and beyond. When we were listening to them tune and go note for note, you could tell how much love went into getting this gem back into the theater, as well as how beautiful it could play. We can’t wait to see it again, maybe at a concert sometime in the future!

From the stage, that’s the best place in the theater. If you look to your right when looking out into the audience, you’ll see the most intricate panel of nobs and pulls that STILL WORK. It looks like something out of a 1940s science fiction movie and operates the fly system. The fly system itself is a sight to behold in its raw ingenuity and complex assortment of pullies and ropes that soar to the scaffolding and catwalk above. Whoever wields that power is a true magician. 

Exiting the stage door by the fly system and looking back, above the door reads, “Play it Pretty for Atlanta” this was not always in neon, it was originally a stencil put there in the '70s. Turning back around you come to the Stage Manager, Fly Captain and all the main stage personnel offices where they spend many a night there during a busy run of shows. Descending into the basement, I got to see the organist office, as well as where the actors from a musical or musicians would gather in a green room or in the main “cafeteria looking” room lined with mirrors where wigs, costumes, and make-up are administered. Surreal. When I was in high school I was thisclose to dancing in International Ballet Rotaru’s Nutcracker. I was going to be a soldier. They replaced us with professionals a few weeks prior, but to have seen this in action would have been a delight, but also electric with nerves and furry.

Isn’t The Fox Theatre fabulous? The history, the beauty, the memories that it brings, are the reason it’s treasured among Atlantans and possibly even the county. We’re blessed to have something so majestic and rare in our fair city. I can’t wait to get back to seeing a musical every year with my family. I wonder which one it will be.

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