Hanna Theatre

Cleveland, Ohio | C.1921

Photo Credit: Accidentally Wes Anderson

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Colloquially, when a play bombs it generally means that it’s performing poorly. Someone took the phrase a bit too literally when they threw an actual bomb from their car at the Hanna Theater in Cleveland, Ohio to protest a production of the musical Hairspray in 1971 (Who knew a beauty product could be so infuriating?) Fortunately, no one was in the theater and only a few windows were shattered. In the fifty years before and since the incident, the Hanna Theater has made an enormous impact on the theater scene in Cleveland. 

Over the span of 19 months in the 1920s, five theaters – including the Hanna – would open in the area now known as Playhouse Square, the largest performing arts complex outside of New York City. A beautifully ornate theater with coffered ceilings and green and gold carpets, Hanna premiered The Prince and the Pauper to 1500 slightly-cramped guests – unless you were in row five. At owner Daniel Hanna’s request, that row, and that row only – where he personally sat – received four extra inches of legroom. 

Not only did it survive the Great Depression, the Hanna would go on to become the preeminent theater in the region. But despite being placed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the larger complex in 1978, it closed a decade later due to suburban flight and an overall waning interest in theater. 

Almost immediately after it closed, a man named Raymond Shepardson stepped in and is credited for single handedly saving Playhouse Square. Shepardson had a history working in theater – from Cleveland to the Warner Theatre in Washington D.C., the Fox Theatre in Detroit, and five different theaters with varying degrees of “Palace” in their names. Using his expertise from 30 other projects, he went on to reopen the Hanna as a cabaret – saving the structure from impending demolition.

A few decades after receiving a new lease on life, a restoration project was undertaken in earnest by Westlake Reed Leskosky, part of DLR Group. The fully restored Hanna reopened in 2008 with all the modern trimmings and ample legroom for all – even if you were not sitting in Row 5.

Now home to the Great Lakes Theater Festival, the Hanna will be putting on a production of Shakespeare’s seafaring final play The Tempest in its 100th year. While it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the Hanna – surviving the Great Depression, bombings, and multiple closings – but as with Prospero at the end of the Tempest, all was returned to its rightful order.

:memo: Written by: Chris Gilson

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