LYNN – Mayor Thomas M. McGee remembers sitting in the balcony of Lynn Memorial Auditorium in 1971, watching the first Joe Frazier-Muhammad Ali “Fight of the Century” with his dad, brother and a couple of Boston Bruins.
“It was shown closed-circuit on the big screen. The place was packed. Half of the crowd rooted for Frazier, half for Ali. Frazier won in 15 rounds. It’s one of my greatest memories, and the fact it was in our auditorium made it all the better.”
Carolyn Cole, director of the Downtown Lynn Cultural District, remembers a raucous interactive showing of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” at the auditorium the night before Halloween a few years ago. “Everyone wore costumes and brought props and sang loudly. It’s one of my favorite memories about being from Lynn.”
Now, 70 years after it opened, the auditorium, said James Marsh, the city’s Community Development director, has never been busier. In addition to the successful concert/entertainment series that has brought new audiences to Lynn’s celebrated Art Deco venue, a bunch of dance recitals and graduations are booked this spring, and live theater productions for area elementary school students have been enormously successful.
And a movie revival is about to begin.
“We’ll have 21-plus (concerts) on sale this year. That might be the most we’ve ever had,” said Marsh. “And we’re very excited about bringing movie nights back to the auditorium.”
A screening of “Darkest Hour,” the recent film about Winston Churchill that received six Oscar nominations, is tentatively scheduled for May 25 at 8 p.m. If it’s a success, a film series is likely, featuring a mix of classic movies and first-run films just out of theaters but not yet on DVD.
“We discussed scheduling ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ on May 4th but the auditorium was booked. ‘May the 4th be with you’ would’ve been a great catchphrase,” said Marsh, with a smile.
Marsh envisions a movie ticket would cost $3, with theater staples like Junior Mints and Sno-Caps costing $2. Beer, wine and tonic would be offered at affordable prices.
Marsh remembers a Daily Item Page 1 from 2004. “The headline was something like ‘Movies to be shown at Auditorium, which could lead to bigger things,’ ” he said. Now one of those bigger things — the concert series — has led back to movies.
At one time, Lynn was home to at least 10 movie theaters. When E.M. Lowe’s Open Air Theater, situated on the Lynnway site that now houses Walmart, closed in the early ’70s, that marked the end of Lynn’s rich cinematic history. McGee said he enjoyed the Beatles’ movie “Help” at the Capitol Theatre on Union Street when he was a kid. The long-shuttered Capitol burned down in 1976.
The restoration of Lynn Memorial Auditorium began in 2004, when Chip Clancy was mayor. It reopened with great fanfare on Oct. 1, 2006, when Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops played, and kept gathering momentum during Judith Flanagan Kennedy’s run as mayor.
“We’d like to find a right mix of movies, look at film festival possibilities and explore the movie-and-dinner option with restaurants throughout the city,” said McGee. “This rebirth of our beautiful auditorium is what was envisioned when it was first built. We’d like something to be going on there every night, to bring the community together and to show everyone the great things that are happening here.
McGee said showing movies presents “an exciting opportunity. The Somerville Theatre and Cabot in Beverly have had great success with its mix of concerts and movies. They are true performance centers, as is our gem of a facility.” Lynn Auditorium has about 2,000 seats, the Somerville and Cabot about half that number.
Last Friday morning, live theater was on stage and nearly every seat was occupied by teachers and students from Drewicz, Harrington and Sacred Heart schools in Lynn, the Bell School in Marblehead, and schools from Medford, Malden, Newton, Middleton, Wilmington, Burlington, Woburn, Newburyport, Everett and Charlestown.
Yellow banana boat buses encircled City Hall after the hour-long performance of “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical,” presented by TheatreWorks USA, which produces nationally touring children shows and leased the auditorium for the day. The show was free to students, many of whom had never before experienced live theater. The kids were louder than a Get the Led Out crowd, laughing in all the right places during the educational, entertaining show about the theft of Zeus’ lightning bolt.
“The students are seeing a real Broadway show firsthand here in Lynn, for free. For the performers, too, this is their first opportunity, hoping to make it on their own in the theater,” said Marsh.
“Junie B. Jones” is on tap for April 30. “Charlotte’s Web,” “Freedom Train” and “Dragons Love Tacos” have already graced the auditorium stage this season. Six shows are booked for 2019.
The 2018 music lineup is packed with goodies, too. Marsh and Henry Ryan, the gentlemen responsible for booking the auditorium shows, said at least three “big surprises” of major acts will be announced soon.
Recently announced concerts include Retro Futura 2018 with Belinda Carlisle (Go-Go’s), ABC, Modern English, Tony Lewis (The Outfield) and Limahl (Kajagoogoo), July 15; the Music of Cream 50th Anniversary Tour, Oct. 11; and Engelbert Humperdinck, Oct. 14.
“The double-bills are selling very well,” said Marsh. “Eric Burdon And The Animals/The Yardbirds (May 10), Tavares and Russell Thompkins Jr. and the New Stylistics (May 12), Stephen Stills and Judy Collins (June 21), Tommy James and the Shondells and Peter Noone and Herman’s Hermits (Sept. 28) are very popular, as is Kool and the Gang (Aug. 24) and War (Sept. 29).”