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For the next seven decades,

through numerous changes in name and ownership, the Folly built a rich and colorful history. Her walls echoed with the sounds of laughter at Marx Brothers antics, cheers for Gypsy Rose Lee and Fanny Brice, and thunderous applause for Pinky Lee.

In 1973, worn out from seven decades of use and misuse, the Folly was sentenced to meet the wrecking ball. Bulldozers were ready to raze the building to make way for a parking lot.

As the death of the Folly neared, alarmed citizens, led by Joan Ken Dillon and William Deramus III of the Performing Arts Foundation, rallied to her rescue. The building was purchased and placed on the National Register of Historic Places. A million-dollar grant was secured, and a piece of history was saved.

Re-opened in 1981,

the Folly is again a world-class theater. Her exterior is a marvel, her interior comfortable and elegant. Her acoustics have been compared to Carnegie Hall.

Today, the Folly is filled with the sounds of children’s giggles, thunderous applause for world-class performers, and the clink of toasting glasses. We invite you to share in the history and magic of the Folly Theater.

standard theater

1900-1901


Designed by Louis Curtiss, Folly opened in 1900 as the Standard Theater, housing burlesque & vaudeville performances. The owner was Colonel Ed Butler. Exposed lightbulbs were a major showcase in the architecture as the lightbulb was invented a year prior to construction.

century theater

1901-1923


Coates Opera House, a “legitimate” theater just up the street, burned down, and the Standard became the Century Theater, taking on many of the Coates's “legitimate” theater productions. In 1902, the theater reverted back to its burlesque & vaudeville roots. Manager Joe Donegan presented Jack Dempsey and Jack Johnson in boxing matches on stage.

lost paradise show vintage ad

1920


Fire in the balcony, but the show went on that night with sawdust on the floor.

picture 2

1922


Closed for renovations.

1923-1932


Shubert Missouri Theater – Shubert family leased the theater, once again presenting legitimate theater acts, which were at the time, competing with silent films. Actors such as Humphrey Bogart, Marx Brothers, and Shirley Booth performed on stage.

1928


Shubert’s subleased to a burlesque troupe – Gypsy Rose Lee’s first burlesque performance took place on the Folly stage.

1932-1941


During the depression years, only a few shows took place. The advent of the talkie movie became a true threat to live theater.

1941-1973


The Folly Theater reopened as the Folly Burlesque – Soldiers passing through Kansas City by way of Union Station stopped the Folly to see the shows (better defined as striptease at that point). Crowds gathered to see such acts as Miss Perpetual Motion, Sally Rand, and Tempest Storm. In 1958 movies were added to burlesque stage shoes and eventually, the Folly devolved into adult films, and quietly closed in 1973, and was slated for demolition leading to an effort to save The Grand Lady of 12th Street. The City Council passed a delay ordinance in March, which would save the building.

1974


Without the intervention from civic leaders Joan Kent Dillon and William Deramus III, the Folly would now be a parking lot for the convention center. However, by garnering support and raising funds, they saved a Kanas City treasure. In 1974, the Folly was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in June. Standard Redevelopment Corp. was formed in September and merged with the non-profit Performing Arts Foundation. PAF purchased the property in December with funds raised from foundations, corporations, individuals, $60K from the Department of Interior, and Community Development funds from the city of Kansas City, MO.

1975


A design team is chosen and the theater is cleaned, temporarily rewired, roof leaks fixed, and building secured. Fundraising efforts began in late fall. Nine metric tons of pigeon droppings were cleaned from the building.

1976


Auction of Folly memorabilia and a performance by Sally Rand was held in June of 1976.

1977


A $25K Department of Interior grant is awarded. Palladian window restored and dedicated. Mortgage burning on March 15.

1978–1980


Folly host the League of Historic American Theatres in 1978. In 1979, the Folly receives and $50K grant from the Department of Interior for plasterwork and also receives a $1 million grant from HUD/UDAG. Grand breaking on the new wing in 1980.

1981


With the reopening in 1981, the Folly became a cornerstone of the community, hosting some of the world’s foremost performers of the time including, Ailey Dance, Itzhak Perlman, Gregory Hines, Dave Brubeck. On occasion, a burlesque or vaudeville show would take the stage, an accepting nod to the Folly’s bawdy history. Reopening on November 10, with the production of the comedy “Room Service.”

2000 -2001


The Folly closed in May of 2000 for renovations, including painting, expanded lobby space, additional restrooms, and new sound and lighting systems. On September 23, 2001, the Folly reopened at its 100th anniversary Gala with a performance by Gregory Hines.

2006


In October, the theater celebrated the 25th anniversary of its reopening with a gala party and performance by Bob Newhart and a guest appearance by Walter Cronkite.

2010


President Barack Obama appeared on the Folly stage for a special fundraising event for Robin Carnahan.

2011


The Folly Theater was chosen by Downbeat Magazine as one of the top 100 Jazz venues in the world.

2012


A “Light the Lights” Gala celebrated the installation of a new marquee sign – the first since 1974.

2017


The Folly’s performance auditorium, is named the C. Stephen Metzler Hall in honoring longtime Folly supporter Steve Metzler.

2018


Renovations are completed in the summer, and the Folly re-opens with renovated lobby spaces, restrooms, bar and concession area, and a new elevator to the freshly modernized Joan Kent Dillon Patron’s Lounge.

2020-2021


Folly Theater turns 120 years during the COVID outbreak. It’s estimated that 160 Folly-produced shows and rentals were lost or postponed due to the pandemic. The Live! From the Lounge series is launched to small and intimate crowds in the JKD Lounge to help local artists during the time of venue and performance space shutdowns. After being rescheduled from his original performance in early 2020 two times, John Pizzarelli will take the stage in the Folly’s first produced Jazz show in over 18 months.

Rent The Folly

Here’s the way to make your event especially memorable.

The Folly Theater is the perfect combination of elegance, first-class service, and colorful history. The Folly is the perfect place for concerts, recitals, receptions, award ceremonies, weddings, meetings, photo shoots and private auditions.

C. Stephen Metzler Hall

Joan Kent Dillon Lounge

seating