After 82 years the iconic Tally Ho Theatre is trying to find itself.
No longer a haven for film buffs where residents, including owner Don Devine himself as a child once watched movies for 50 cents each, the downtown Leesburg building may have just found its niche in the unknown.
From offering a stage for theatre productions to new generation Dubstep concerts to dinner theatre, the new Tally Ho has emerged in 2013 as a can-do-it-all venue.
“We looked at the 930 Club. We looked at The Birchmere. Everyone has their specialty and we’re trying to find out really what our specialty is going to be. The 930 Club is downtown. The Birchmere is sit down and be quiet. And we’re somewhere in between that. We really don’t know where we are yet, but we’re working on it,” the owner said.
Devine bought the building in 1998 and rented it for 10 years to production companies that strictly sold movie tickets.
The new venue is the brainchild of Devine’s 22-year-old son, Jack, who got hooked on Dubstep music and new age festivals while studying abroad in Oxford.
After Market Street Productions, the then-operators of the Tally Ho Theatre, announced they would vacate the building on Sept. 3, the father looked to his son for advice on how to advance the decades old venue into the 21st century.
What emerged was a cosmetic overhaul “to the Nth degree. ” It was a work in progress, to say the least.
“First we took out the wall. Then at first we didn’t want to take out all the seats and then we took them all out …. it all just kind of came to us as we were going along. I think it turned out pretty well,” Jack Devine, manager of what is now Tally Ho Productions LLC said.
With a 650 person capacity, the 18,000-square-foot building was essentially taken back to its original design, minus the theatre seats, which are now in the homes of residents throughout Leesburg.
After a failed attempt to sell the seats on Craig’s List, the Devines decided to just put them on the street for passersby to help themselves.
Still, there is some of the vintage left in the building. The “funky chairs” that grace the mezzanine area were bought from “Duke” Zeibert’s famous Washington D.C. restaurant when it closed a decade ago.
Other than some classic furniture, every surface of the building has had a facelift, including new curtains and carpet, a lobby, bathrooms, the backstage area and a new greenroom for artists. Since the building was constructed in 1931 – before six-figure sound systems – its semi-circular roof lends itself to great acoustics, Devine said.
And the artists are starting to take notice.
Tally Ho Productions recently hosted Chicago’s DJ Trademark and Milly Badison. At least 400 people turned out for the performance. The artists intend to make another appearance at the venue on March 9, Devine said.
Other big name acts, such as the Gin Blossoms and James McMurtry, son of nationally acclaimed author James McMurtry who wrote “Lonesome Dove” and “Terms of Endearment,” have been booked to play at the Tally Ho. McMurtry will perform Feb. 27.
In the last week, the venue hosted Theaterpalooza, a Hagerstown, Md.-based children’s performing arts company. The actors put on a three-show performance of “Mary Poppins.” They will return the weekend of April 15.
And there within lies the Tally Ho’s niche. Devine believes the venue is still trying to find itself, but its trademark is likely variety.
With an 850-square-foot stage and a 2,000-square-foot standing floor for the audience, the company can bring in rented chairs if needed for sit down performances.
Dinner theatre seating of 1,000 square feet is available up front, which will catered by La Lou Bistro, the Mediterranean restaurant next door. The Tally Ho can even serve as a venue for wedding rehearsal dinners.
There are two VIP boxes available for rent for $250 to $1,000, depending on the show, Devine said.
Continuing as a movie house simply wasn’t an option with new big box theatres emerging throughout Loudoun County, he said. The Tally Ho Theatre couldn’t keep up with the technology.
“My own kids’ girlfriends would demand that they take them to Fox [to watch movies]. I wrote in the lease that my kids could go here for free and they still wouldn’t go here. That’s how dirty it was,” Devine said.
But the owner knew there was something missing in downtown Leesburg: a vibrant music scene.
With the Tally Ho, his goal is to make it the go-to place for entertainment for Loudoun’s residents. It’s still a lot of hard work, but he gets to do it alongside his son.
“We just got to work and had a ball doing it. It’s as busy as I’ve been in seven or eight years and it’s the happiest I’ve been in that time,” Devine said.
To view a list of upcoming events at the Tally Ho, visit http://www.tallyholeesburg.com.
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