Superstar comedian Chris Rock will work the boards at the Hippodrome Theatre starting tonight for a two-show gig that would typically garner a local sold-out crowd.
Enter Netflix stage right. And Will Smith stage left. The double whammies of streaming power and scandal and stardom mean Saturday night’s show, “Chris Rock: Selective Outrage,” livestreaming from the Hippodrome at 10 p.m. will likely reach millions.
The global event goes live from Baltimore’s historic landmark. What could happen? Probably not much more than what the 100-year-old theater has already seen.
Here are five things you might not know about the Hippodrome.
The original Hippodrome cost $225,000
That’s right. When it opened in November 1914, the 3,000-seat theater was the largest in the city and it cost just about what you would pay today for a three-bedroom rowhouse in Baltimore. Within 20 years, the debt-ridden theater would close, leading attorney L. Edward Goldman to purchase it for $14,000 in 1931.
Its first tenants were jugglers, comics and four elephants
The theater was home to vaudevillian acts of the day, but it was the various beasts that created some memorable moments. The Sun reported that firefighters once rescued a horse that slipped and became wedged in a backstage door while exiting the stage. The vaudeville era ended in 1951 with performances by Pee Wee King and the Cowboys, who were the last vaudeville act at Hippodrome before the theater began showing double features.
The theater itself is a comedy star
Once one of the nation’s top vaudeville houses, the Hippodrome has seen its share of comedy. The original Three Stooges — Ted Healy, Moe and Shemp Howard — performed in 1937, as did Red Skelton. Other famous funny performers include Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Bob Hope, Jack Benny and the “comedy team” of Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman.
The theater itself is also a film star. In 1998, Baltimore-born director Barry Levinson filmed exterior scenes of the Hippodrome for his movie, “Liberty Heights.” And John Waters used the theater in 2000 for scenes in his film, “Cecil B. Demented.”
It’s officially The France-Merrick Performing Arts Center
The Hippodrome underwent a $62 million renovation with a groundbreaking in 2002. It reopened as The France-Merrick Performing Arts Center in 2004. More than 60% of the refurbished venue was new construction.
The first show? “The Producers.”
There’s plenty of room for Chris Rock to roam
With over 2,200 seats, the Hippodrome features a generous stage. Unlike many historic theaters that are narrow but deep, the original theater — because of its location on a shallow parcel — boasted a wide footprint. The renovation made the stage even larger than before, 108 feet wide by 50 feet deep, and seven stories high, according to a 2004 article in The Sun.
That’s a lot of space for Rock to get it all off his chest. The comedian told The Wall Street Journal this week that he’s finally ready to talk about that infamous moment at last year’s Oscars. The Hippodrome stage is ready for another big reveal.
Sun reporter Frederick N. Rasmussen and Sun research librarian Paul McCardell contributed to this article.