[Skip to Content]
CLOSE MENU

Southern Theatre

The oldest surviving theatre in central Ohio and one of the oldest in the state, the Southern Theatre opened in 1896 as part of a performance space and hotel complex on the corner of High and Main Streets. The Southern was designed for the presentation of theatrical touring productions, and later also accommodated silent films, vaudeville, first- and second-run motion pictures, dance, country music reviews, and community events. Over its life, the Southern has hosted singer Lillian Russell, actors Ethel and Lionel Barrymore, Maude Adams, Sarah Bernhardt, dancers Anna Pavlova and Isadora Duncan, John Philip Sousa, Al Jolson, George M. Cohan, Mae West, and W.C. Fields.

The Great Southern Fireproof Hotel and Opera House

After fire destroyed five downtown theatres between 1889 and 1893, an assembly of businessmen decided to enhance the city’s south side with a new-and-improved, fashionable hotel. Designed by the prominent local architectural firm of Dauben, Krumm, and Riebel, construction on the Great Southern Fireproof Hotel and Opera House began in 1894.

The Southern Theatre opened on September 21, 1896, and the hotel the following summer. Constructed of "fireproof" tile, brick, iron, steel, and concrete, the theatre -- which originally seated 1,723 on three levels -- was praised for its plush seats, stylish boxes, excellent sight lines, and absence of posts or other obstructions. Its ample stage dimensions proved more than up to the challenge of the 1903 touring production of Ben-Hur, which featured a cast of 350 and a chariot race in which two teams of horses galloped on treadmills for a mile!

A Modern Facility

The Southern Theatre departed from the classical opera house by incorporating features considered very "modern" for its day. Most notable was the design of the audience chamber ceiling. From the proscenium opening, a series of concentric arches radiate into the house, creating an acoustic system that is still nearly perfect today.

The Southern Theatre was also one of the first commercial facilities in Columbus to use electricity. The six arches that fanned out over the orchestra were lined with light bulbs—204 lamps in all! Tinted globes shaded the bulbs, giving the effect of warm, diffused light over the entire theatre. Ahead of its time, the building had to generate its own electricity and also produce its own water supply from three wells in the basement.

Opening Night

The Southern's grand opening entertainment was the Broadway touring production of In Gay New York, followed by An American Beauty starring Lillian Russell. During its early years, the greatest names of the theatrical world played the Southern, including Ethel and Lionel Barrymore, John Philip Sousa, Sarah Bernhardt, Al Jolson, and W.C. Fields. Actress Maude Adams flew from the stage to the balcony in an early production of Peter Pan,and dancer Isadora Duncan refused to play Columbus unless she could play the Southern!

Changes for the Southern

By 1901, the Southern was still struggling to cover the cost of its construction, said to have been approximately $1.5 million. Fred and Ralph Lazarus stepped in, purchasing the property at auction for $235,000. The brothers oversaw many renovations, including the installation of a projection booth and the removal of the first several rows of the arches so the newly installed pipe organ could be heard from behind. By 1931, the Southern was a full-time movie house.

After decades of increasing maintenance issues, the Lazarus family sold the facility to a realtor who planned on turning it into an apartment building and garage. It never came to pass through, and in 1979, the Southern Theatre was closed.

Rebuilding the Legend

In 1982, the Great Southern Hotel and Theatre were purchased by local developers who wanted to renovate the hotel. In 1986, property owners Bill and Barbara Bonner made a gift of the Southern Theatre to CAPA, which undertook a feasibility study in 1990 to determine the nature and scope of the renovations needed to bring it back to life.

Like the campaign that saved the Ohio Theatre nearly 30 years prior, the public drive to support the restoration of the Southern Theatre was wide-ranging and embraced both the public and the private sector. The State of Ohio provided leadership funding in the public arena, contributing $3.9 million appropriated in three separate biennial budgets, and the City of Columbus provided more than $670,000 in UDAG funding for the effort. Private support made up 58% of the$10 million project's total funding, with major support from 73 central Ohio businesses, local and national foundations, and more than 250 individuals.

On September 26, 1998, following an intensive, 14-month CAPA-led restoration, the 925-seat, jewel box Southern Theatre was reopened, providing a beautiful, accessible, and lively link to our community's past and its bright future

A New Era

Today, in addition to CAPA-presented concerts and performances, the Southern Theatre is home to Opera Columbus, the Columbus Jazz Orchestra, Chamber Music Columbus, and the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra.

Events at Southern Theatre

September 2021
CAPA

Menopause The Musical®

COME JOIN OUR SISTERHOOD!

Southern Theatre
Southern Theatre
Tuesday, September 24
CAPA

Josh Ritter & the Royal City Band

Opener: Amanda Shires

Southern Theatre
Event Starts 7:30 PM
Southern Theatre
Thursday, September 26
CAPA

Anjelah Johnson

Southern Theatre
Event Starts 8:00 PM
Southern Theatre
Sunday, October 6
Outback Concerts

Nate Bargatze

Southern Theatre
Event Starts 9:30 PM
Southern Theatre
Sunday, October 13
ProMusica Chamber Orchestra

Opening Night

Southern Theatre
Event Starts 7:00 PM
Southern Theatre
October 1720
Jazz Arts Group

THE GREATEST JAZZ CONCERT IN THE WORLD

Southern Theatre
Southern Theatre
Saturday, October 19
Chamber Music Columbus

David Finckel, Wu Han and Philip Setzer

Southern Theatre
Event Starts 4:00 PM
Southern Theatre
Sunday, October 27
CAPA

Sasha Velour's Smoke & Mirrors

Southern Theatre
Event Starts 8:00 PM
Southern Theatre
Friday, November 1
ProMusica Chamber Orchestra

Naked Classics: Schubert's Unfinished Symphony

Southern Theatre
Event Starts 8:00 PM
Southern Theatre
November 2 3
ProMusica Chamber Orchestra

Schubert & Scofano

Southern Theatre
Southern Theatre
November 810
Opera Columbus

As One

Southern Theatre
Southern Theatre
Saturday, November 16
Chamber Music Columbus

Modigliani Quartet

Southern Theatre
Event Starts 8:00 PM
Southern Theatre
November 2324
Columbus Symphony

Handel: Messiah

Southern Theatre
Southern Theatre
December 4 8
Jazz Arts Group

Home for the Holidays

Southern Theatre
Southern Theatre
Friday, December 13
ProMusica Chamber Orchestra

Messiah Side-by-Side Sing Along

Southern Theatre
Event Starts 7:30 PM
Southern Theatre
December 1415
ProMusica Chamber Orchestra

Sounds of the Season

Southern Theatre
Southern Theatre
On Sale TBA
Sunday, January 12
ProMusica Chamber Orchestra

Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto

Southern Theatre
Event Starts 7:00 PM
Southern Theatre
On Sale TBA
Wednesday, January 15
CAPA Education

The Magic School Bus: Lost in the Solar System

Passport to Learning Series

Southern Theatre
Event Starts 10:00 AM
Southern Theatre
January 2021
Right Angle Ent.

The Office! A Musical Parody

Southern Theatre
Southern Theatre
Saturday, January 25
Chamber Music Columbus

American Brass Quintet

Southern Theatre
Event Starts 4:00 PM
Southern Theatre
On Sale TBA
Saturday, February 1
ProMusica Chamber Orchestra

ProMusica Soiree

Southern Theatre
Southern Theatre
On Sale TBA
February 1416
Opera Columbus

The Barber of Seville

Southern Theatre
Southern Theatre
February 2023
Jazz Arts Group

Modern Romance

Southern Theatre
Southern Theatre
Saturday, February 29
Chamber Music Columbus

Calidore String Quartet

Southern Theatre
Event Starts 4:00 PM
Southern Theatre
Wednesday, March 11
CAPA

The Peking Acrobats

Southern Theatre
Event Starts 7:30 PM
Southern Theatre
March 1215
Jazz Arts Group

Speakeasy Hot Jazz

Southern Theatre
Southern Theatre
Saturday, March 28
Chamber Music Columbus

Anthony McGill & Anna Polonsky

Southern Theatre
Event Starts 4:00 PM
Southern Theatre
Friday, April 3
ProMusica Chamber Orchestra

Naked Classics: Mozart - Journey of a Genius

Southern Theatre
Event Starts 8:00 PM
Southern Theatre
Sunday, April 5
ProMusica Chamber Orchestra

Mozart & the Masters

Southern Theatre
Event Starts 7:00 PM
Southern Theatre
Saturday, April 18
Chamber Music Columbus

Brentano String Quartet and Dawn Upshaw

Southern Theatre
Event Starts 8:00 PM
Southern Theatre
April 2326
Jazz Arts Group

SOUL TIME MACHINE

from Cab Calloway to Little Richard

Southern Theatre
Southern Theatre
Sunday, May 3
Opera Columbus

The Cooper-Bing Competition

Southern Theatre
Event Starts 2:00 PM
Southern Theatre
May 910
ProMusica Chamber Orchestra

Brahms & Shaw

Southern Theatre
Southern Theatre
Monday, May 18
CAPA

CAPA Marquee Awards Showcase

Southern Theatre
Event Starts 7:30 PM
Southern Theatre