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Square Circling 

Tours of the Playhouse Square theaters

The Palace from the cheap seats.
  • The Palace from the cheap seats.
Why do the highbrows with the hip threads have some of the lousiest seats in the theater? Why is the lobby of the State Theatre as long as a football field? And who do those two mugs -- the ones peering down from the ceiling of the Allen Theatre's outer lobby -- belong to?

Playhouse Square tours provide answers to these and a supporting cast of other bits of trivia. On the first weekend of most months -- before theatergoers settle in, curtains go up, and lights go on for matinees -- about two dozen "redcoats" (Playhouse Square volunteers) lead free meanderings throughout the Allen, Ohio, State, and Palace theaters, and if your tour guide is a show-stealer like Ron Hendzel, you'll be rolling in the aisles.

"Those are lousy seats," says Hendzel, pointing to the hoity-toity private boxes on each side of the Allen. "Sure, those people have their chinchilla coats and fancy jewelry, but beyond that, they're not too particular." Poor sight lines may skew their views of the stage, but at least they're in the public eye.

And while the theaters themselves are impressive, mouths are more likely to drop open in the lobbies. The recently renovated Allen's bilevel rotunda features an ornate, colorful ceiling, said to replicate that of the 500-year-old Villa Madama in Rome. In the Grand Hall lobby of the Palace, sparkling Czechoslovakian lead crystal chandeliers are reputed to be mirror images of those adorning the Palace of Versailles.

Nearly 80 years of storied history are packed into a tour billed as 90 minutes long -- longer, if Hendzel is your guide. A few of the dozen tourists bowed out before the end of the journey, but others -- including one of the most attentive three-year-olds to ever set foot inside a theater -- enjoyed the entire two and a half hours.

By the way: The lobby of the State Theatre is so long because it was built behind the Palace, due to limited frontage on Euclid Avenue; the dignified faces on the ceiling of the Allen lobby belong to Playhouse Square Foundation President Art J. Falco and Tom Einhouse, director of facilities and construction ("It was a whim of the artist," Hendzel explains. "They didn't have anything to put up there"); and during wordy commentaries, comfy theater seats spell relief for lower backaches.

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