Dramatic Dialogue: Running Lines with Orpheum CEO Pat Halloran

Peabody Duck March. Photo Credit: The Peabody Memphis

See the ducks march in the famous Peabody Hotel in Memphis, TN. Photo courtesy of the Peabody Memphis.

Alfred's on Beale: Andrea Zucker

Live music at Alfred's on Beale Street. Photo by Andrea Zucker.

Rooms at the Madison Hotel

Luxury rooms at The Madison Hotel. Photo by Andrea Zucker.

Memphis Trolley: Dan Ball

Take a ride on the vintage trolley in downtown Memphis. Photo by Dan Ball.

The Orpheum Theatre and trolley. Photo Credit: Phillip Parker

See a Broadway show at the Orpheum Theatre in Memphis. Photo by Phillip Parker.

Have you ever wondered who picks all of the fantastic Broadway plays that come to the Orpheum Theatre? If you’re wild about Wicked, fanatical about Flashdance or bonkers for the Book of Mormon, then settle in, and get ready for the curtain to rise. We talked to Orpheum president and CEO, Pat Halloran, about the work it takes to bring popular, top-line shows to the Bluff City, a new Orpheum venture, and how Memphis is just as good, if not better, than New York City.

How do you determine the shows for the Broadway season?
As a Tony Award voter I see every new show or revival that opens on Broadway and begin considering whether or not these shows will fit into an upcoming Broadway Series. Then, I find out if a tour is running, or will soon be running determine and when it is most convenient for both parties to schedule a run at the Orpheum. I am first and foremost an audience member, so I only choose shows that I enjoyed and that I feel will be well-received by our audience. I typically just go with my gut, and it could probably be compared to drafting a college basketball or football player to join a professional team. You are never quite sure about how well the borderline shows will do financially, but hey, Ford produced the Edsel didn’t it? There is always a risk in every decision you make.   

Why is it important to have Broadway quality entertainment in Memphis?
Quality is always a priority when we do anything at the Orpheum. When we repaint the Grand Lobby and the beautiful auditorium (originally designed in 1928), we hire who we believe is the best company in the world to keep the delicate and extravagant appeal of the gold and silver leaf in good condition. When we replace sound and lighting equipment, we never buy the least expensive if there is an appreciable difference in quality. In that same vein, when it comes to Broadway productions, quality is our number one concern. We don’t want a production of Les Miserables to disappoint our audience because the cast was mediocre or the sets looked like they were built in a day. That is not to say that I haven’t made mistake, but we have built a reputation that requires us to maintain a certain level quality. Our patrons have come to expect it, and if we want them to return time and time again, we had better not disappoint them.  

What does an average work day look like for you?
I get to work around 8 a.m., get my news updates by reading four newspapers, and I set up and facilitate meetings with different departments and staff members to discuss our various goals in fundraising, marketing, and operations. I am also involved in producing and helping raise money for Broadway shows in New York and for their corresponding tours across the country. 

What is your favorite thing about Downtown Memphis?
My favorite thing about Downtown Memphis is everything. The people, the variety of great restaurants, sporting events - there is so much to do it boggles the mind. Of course the Orpheum is my favorite place to go for entertainment. 

Can you tell us a fact about the Orpheum that not many people know?
Most people don’t know that the Orpheum owned by the City of Memphis - the taxpayers actually own the Orpheum. We are very proud of the fact that we don’t take one single cent from the taxpayers to keep the Orpheum in beautiful condition, or to do the all the amazing things we do. We actually pay almost $1 million in sales tax, and we pay the City of Memphis over $300,000 to operate the theatre every year.  

What’s your favorite show that’s ever played at the Orpheum?
To select my favorite Broadway show out of the over 240 plays that I have brought to the Orpheum is much like picking my favorite child over all the others. That being said, there are two very different productions that are consistently at the top of my list. Les Miserables has always had a special place in my heart, and my involvement in the recent production of Memphis the Musical has made it one of my all-time favorites.

What are some of your favorite Memphis restaurants?
I have at least ten that immediately come to mind. Memphis is so fortunate to have what I think is one of the best selections of fine dining experiences in the country…yes, the country! I cannot and will not pick just one, because it is impossible. I would put up my Memphis favorites up against similar restaurants in New York City any day - we can hold our own.  

If someone is visiting Memphis for the first time, what are some attractions (besides catching a show at the Orpheum, of course) should they put on their must-do list?
In no particular order, my must-do stops include The National Civil Rights Museum, Graceland, the Peabody Hotel, the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, and the Arcade, Memphis’ oldest restaurant.   

Can you tell us about any exciting projects coming up at the Orpheum?
The most exciting thing on tap for the Orpheum is the construction of our new Performing Arts Education Centre, which will be built to the immediate south of the theatre. This $14 million building will be a great addition to the city, not only for its exterior beauty, but because of its mission - helping young and old continue to grow and develop personally and creatively while making a positive impact on our community. We are planning to start construction in early 2014, and I cannot wait.