Wurlitzer theatre organ celebrates 40 years at heritage-listed Capri Theatre in Adelaide's south

Wurlitzer theatre organ celebrates 40 years at heritage-listed Capri Theatre in Adelaide's south
Published 12 months ago on Mar 28, 2023

This weekend will mark 40 years since its melodic sounds first filled the Capri Theatre in Goodwood, but it once traversed the Australian outback.

Theatre Organ Society SA's Ross Lange said some parts of the Wurlitzer Theatre Organ predate World War II.

"The organ was made in 1923 over in the United States — in effect, some parts of it are 100 years old," Mr Lange said.

He said it had lived in theatres in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney and along the way, extra pipes had been added to it from around the country and internationally.

In the 1960s it was carted to Darwin in a double-decker bus to a man who wanted to install it in his home.

"After years and years of effort and bad weather and humidity — he never got it to work," Mr Lange said.

South Australia's Theatre Organ Society convinced the man to sell it to the society in 1974.

It was trucked to Adelaide, narrowly missing a significant weather event that hit the top end.

"About three or four weeks later, Darwin was completely destroyed by Cyclone Tracy," Mr Lange said.

It took a few years to assemble the organ and on Easter Saturday in 1983, international theatre organists flew in to celebrate the Wurlitzer finding its permanent home at the Capri.

"They unveiled the organ — the curtains went back and they started playing and I just couldn't believe my eyes to see all these coloured lights — and you can see all the pipes and I said — this is fantastic," Mr Lange said.

International theatre organ musician Chris McPhee will be playing this Easter weekend, to mark the 40-year celebration since the organ first entertained SA audiences.

He said it was a niche art today, but theatre organ musicians were well known during the silent film era, when they would accompany films with sound effects and music.

"Organists were almost like the rock stars of the music world — they were household names, they were known with the general public — now nobody knows us," he laughed.

"It's exciting to see in the world nowadays that vintage and retro are back in vogue and I'm sure that's the case here with theatre organ music as well."

Mr Lange says he hopes the 40th celebration event will encourage new audiences and interest in the Capri organ, so support for its maintenance can continue.

"It hasn't always been easy, but we've got a lot of determined people and our aim is to ensure that it does live on," Mr Lange said.

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