By John Theo Jr.
When one thinks of Christmas in America, the city of Danville, Virginia is probably not the first place that comes to mind. Wayne Allen, owner of the historic North Theater thinks differently. Allen is a lifelong illusionist and 1982 world champion magician who has worked with some of the greats. Names like Copperfield and Henning were on his rolodex. After a life of traveling the world he wanted to retire, but still had an itch to perform. This is a paradox for a professional illusionist. One morning at his home in Annapolis, Maryland Allen read an advertisement about a historic theater for sale in a city called Danville, Virginia. It was completely refurbished and would offer him the ability to perform from a consistent location. The rest, as they say, is history.
Fast forward to 2018 and the North Theater at 629 North Main Street is bustling with monthly comedy and stage shows along with classic movies being shown in the 500-seat venue. Built in 1947 during the heyday of Danville’s prosperity, the North Theater was one of three theaters owned by Leonard Lea. Of the three original theaters, The North Theater is the only survivor.
Along with traditional stage performances, Wayne has created seasonal experiences for his love of all things Christmas. For the month of December, he performs the “Magic of Christmas,” an exciting yet heart-warming illusion show themed around Christmas. The big stage production is full of amazing illusions, but also great music including many of your favorite sacred and secular holiday songs. This holiday show is becoming the newest Christmas tradition in the region and has received national recognition. This wonderful show is inspired by the famous Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Christianity, the real meaning of Christmas, is woven throughout the show which closes with a dramatic, and moving, “Living Nativity” on stage.
Next door to the theater is a Christmas Museum Allen recently created, which is open on weekends from October through December. In keeping with the theater’s era, the museum focuses on Christmas in the United States from the 1940’s until the end of the 20th century. In the small museum there are trees which represent 1940’s -1950’s along with era-appropriate lights & decorations. There is even a rare aluminum tree from the 1960’s. The presents under the trees are specific to the eras they are assigned to. You will find classic toys like erector sets, and vintage monopoly and twister board games. Other artifacts from Christmas past include a collection of Nativities, as well as a section dedicated to the Coca Cola company, which explains how they helped popularize the modern image of Santa. You can listen to Christmas music on an old 1950 Admiral record player and view a model train running in a mock-up of Danville. Before you leave, make sure to cast your vote for the “Ugliest Christmas Sweater” which is on display.
The Christmas fun doesn’t end there. Allen plans at least one showing of the Classic Frank Capra movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Ironically, this Jimmy Stewart movie was shown at the North Theater when it was first released back in 1947. Sitting in the completely restored theater in one of the gorgeous red velvet chairs you can experience the movie in a way your grandparents once did.
Allen’s love of Christmas continues to grow for he has future plans to make Danville a “Christmas destination”. He owns the web domains ChristmasInDanville.com and TourDanville.com. He explained that Danville is known as, “The city of churches” as it has more churches per capita than any city in Virginia. He went on to reveal a vast knowledge of Danville church history. From the stained-glass architecture and nativity scenes to specific traditions like the Lutheran Chrismon. He believes Danville has a lot to offer with its history and Christian roots.
Maybe, in the not so distant future, tour buses will bring people to visit the local churches before stopping to watch the massive Danville Christmas Parade, and end the day at the North Theater for dinner and a show.
The Christmas Museum is open from October through December, and the stage show will be held during the month of December. For prices, times, and directions log on to www.thenorththeatre.com
John Theo Jr. is new to South Boston but not new to writing. He has authored several books and penned many articles. Hyco Lake Magazine is thankful to share his perspective on our community. Please welcome John and get to know him better by going to JohnTheo.com, visit him at Cozy Cave Self Storage & More at 306 Webster Street, South Boston, VA 24592 or give him a call at 434-579-2856!