The Music Hall’s Encore
Since renovations in 2005, the Danforth Music Hall proves successful as a venue for the community
By Marguerite Weir
The Music Hall on Danforth Avenue has become a lively venue for great performances in Toronto since being renovated by local businessman Glyn Laverick. Ticket sales for the Music Hall started in 1919 when John and Julia Allen began opening their chain of theatres across Canada. The Music Hall, formerly known as The Allen, was among the first of ten theatres to open in Toronto after World War One. Described as “Canada’s first super-suburban photography palace,” the design was very simple, with few embellishments for the purpose of keeping the patrons focused on the vaudeville shows performed there in the early days. The Allen later became The Century cinema, which was used during many Toronto film festivals. The Century was one of the few cinemas in the area and despite the convenience for local residents the theatre was closed in 2005 with an indefinite future. It was around this time when Glyn Laverick, a twenty-something concert promoter and entrepreneur took on the project of renovating the historic building.
Post-renovation, the newly formed Music Hall has a state of the art lighting system, audio equipment and brand new audience seating, as well as a trendy sidewalk cafÃ© where concertgoers and passers-by can grab a meal. The venue now features a variety of performing arts, from Sam Roberts’ three-day concert event in November to Belly Dance Superstars two weeks later.
But how successful were the renovations in attracting a wider audience? Connie T. saw the Rheostatics perform at the Hall and describes the attraction of the venue like “an old sock. We have a long-standing relationship, it smells kind of musty, and there are a lot of holes. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to give it away.”
Performers are also fond of the Music Hall for its intimate and historic charm. Noel Gallagher of Oasis has declared it one of his favourite Toronto venues. Edge 102.1 DJ Alan Cross believes there is “a sense of history to the place that can’t be replicated in a newer venue. It’s also one of the many soft-seat venues this city needs to keep up with the demand.” In 2008, the Canadian Music Industry awarded the Music Hall with Performing Arts Centre of the Year in the less than 1500 capacity category. Quite an honour for a newly renovated venue isolated from the downtown club and concert scene.
The Music Hall is able to compete with the edgier Toronto concert venues like the Guvernment and Lee’s Palace because it has been successful in attracting both big name artists and local performers into an intimate setting. The Hall has become a successful venue because of Laverick’s ability to book a vast variety of music, dance and theatre productions. It helps, however, that The Music Hall is the perfect combination of a concert stadium and a smaller club as one concert attendee observed: “This [place] provides a great closeness and decent acoustics in a venue that’s fairly distant from the beaten path. Because of its location, it stands out.”
More than 50,000 people come through the Danforth area each year to attend a show. Laverick, chairman of the Business Improvement Area (BIA) for the Danforth community, promotes the venue to both area residents and visitors alike. “The Danforth is a wonderfully self-contained neighbourhood that offers something for everybody,” notes Laverick. “You can make a day of it: go shopping, have a wonderful dinner, go to the theatre…it’s all here in your own backyard.”
The Critics Weigh In
Although the Music Hall has a charm that attracts performers, concertgoers are divided into “love it” or “hate it” categories. Carlos saw Beirut, an act not known for disappointing fans, and decided “the Music Hall is not meant for lively concerts. You are sitting down, feeling so distant from the stage, you can’t move anywhere because of the seating. Although it was one of the best concerts last year, in another venue it would have gotten double as crazy.” Erin of Toronto disagrees; she says the Music Hall “beats the hell out of some of the shiny new venues in town.”
It seems Laverick has a future in restoring old entertainment venues to their former glory. In 2000, Oshawa’s city council signed Laverick on to restore their Regent Theatre after the owner petitioned the council to demolish the building. “I’ve been waiting for opening night at the Regent Theatre, and I’m sure Mr. Laverick will make the night a glorious gala for our community,” said Councillor Parkes. Oshawa is embarking on a heritage campaign to restore rather than demolish the historic buildings in the city and on October 25, 2008, the Regent Theatre was reopened with the best equipment and top performing acts like David Usher and Colin James.
The new Music Hall is a great achievement for Danforth businesses, but it is also refreshing to walk by a historic building in Canada and hear the wail of a guitar, the shouts and screams of a crowd and the final applause that’s begging for an encore.