Originally built as a movie house in 1924, the ornate Warner Theatre has ebbed in and out of fashion. After a period of neglect, the Kaempfer Company recently spent $10 million to restore the 1,847-seat theater, once owned by Warner Bros., to its 1920s glory. Now, when you push open one of the heavy glass doors, you enter the atmosphere of the golden age of entertainment.
At the far end of the lobby, a grand staircase leads to the balcony tier. The ceiling over the orchestra seems three-stories high. Private boxes line each wall. A sparkling chandelier worth a quarter of a million dollars hangs in the center of a large gilded circle; stained-glass lamps glow from other spots around the theater. Plush Portuguese draperies hang on the walls, partly obscuring raised gold-painted patterns. Rows of velvet seats embroidered with red and gold brocade sit upon a carpet of matching colors. It's hard to believe most of the renovation money went toward technical improvements such as a new electrical and rigging system and unblocking a stage left exit route for performers.
In this classy environment, you would expect only the fine arts to dominate the stage. Not so. Warner's management group rents out the space, creating eclectic fare. Although the Washington Ballet's "Nutcracker" appears almost annually, you're more likely to find Rob Becker's comedy about male insensitivity, "Defending the Caveman," playing for extended runs, or yet another engagement of the musical "Cabaret" or "Smoky Joe's Cafe." Harking back to the good old days, movies have their premiere here once in a while, as well as "product roll-outs" for corporations. Unlike most other performance spaces, drinks are permitted anywhere in the theater, except when an artist (such as Mikhail Baryshnikov) deems it too distracting. Opposite the gorgeous wood bar in the lobby is a concession stand for candy (but alas, no popcorn).
The Metro Center stop is just paces away from the front door, and parking is available next door for $7 (rates may vary) at the PMI garage on 12th Street, between E and F streets.
-- Nicole Lewis