Last Friday night I went to Richmond’s historic Byrd Theater, built in 1928, to attend their annual silent movie presentation of Lon Chaney’s Phantom of the Opera from 1925. This is a special event because it features not only the classic film but the live music to accompany it.
The Byrd Theater is one of very few to have an original “Mighty Wurlitzer” pipe organ in good condition. I don’t say excellent condition, because it is slowly being restored as funds become available. Friday night’s event was a fundraiser. All the money from the $12 ticket went to the organ’s rehabilitation. The place was full–every one of the 1,400 seats–which means over $16,000 for the organ. The organ console were raised up to a spot just below the bottom of the screen, so the audience could see the organist, Michael Britt (who came down from Baltimore to perform), as he played without stopping for the entire feature-length film. Quite a feat. (I play the pipe organ as a hobby, so I probably appreciate his talents more than most.)
The Byrd Theater is a National Historic Landmark. It has survived all these years without alterations. The interior is gorgeous.
Attending the movie was great fun. Although I’d seen clips of this famous picture, I’d never seen the entire thing. I hadn’t realized that the masquerade scenes were made in color–a nice surprise.