Victorian Christmas Magic-Lantern show at Liberty Hall

Friday, November 30, 2012 - 4:38pm

The City of Tyler’s Liberty Hall, in partnership with the East Texas Symphony Orchestra Association, are hosting “The Victorian Christmas Magic-Lantern Show” on Dec. 8. at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.

National Public Radio says, “It’s an incredible experience. . . If they come to your town, don’t miss them. They’re a living national treasure.”

A hundred years ago, everyone joined in the fun of watching these Magic-Lantern Shows on the big screen, clapping and stomping one minute, moved to tears the next. Colors swirled, animated cartoons cavorted, Christmas stories unfolded and everyone joined in singing "Silent Night" as angels descended from the heavens. Young and old sat mesmerized, mouths agape.

An early Christmas movie? Not at all. This is a Magic-Lantern Show, the great-grandpa of the movies. They came before silent films; yet are in color, and have sound and spectacular special effects. The American Magic-Lantern Theater has re-created this popular entertainment and is bringing its "Christmas Magic-Lantern Show" to Liberty Hall on Dec. 8.

A huge brass-and-mahogany projector lit with gas "limelight" rapidly projects hand-colored slides on the screen. The slides -- many of them animated -- illustrated stories and songs and comedy, just as the movies would later. A live showman and musician provide the soundtrack, and the audience joins in creating sound effects, playing horns and tambourines, chanting and clapping, booing and cheering. In fact, the content of the early movies was often lifted from successful Magic-Lantern shows, and many of the earliest movie projectors were simply adapted Magic-Lantern projectors.

The re-created "Christmas Magic-Lantern Show" is produced by The American Magic-Lantern Theater, the nation's only theater company specializing in this popular form of entertainment. Over the last 20 years, the Theater has performed for more than a million people, in 38 states and five foreign countries.

In this Christmas production, "The Little Match Girl," homeless in the snow at Christmas, finds joy with the spirit of her grandmother. Santa makes his way down the chimney in "The Night Before Christmas." Civil War soldiers dream of home as they hear "O Holy Night" in their imaginations. Scrooge learns the true meaning of Christmas, and animated toys cavort on Christmas morning.

Terry Borton, lead showman of The American Magic-Lantern Theater, became interested in the Magic-Lantern because his great-grandfather had one, which was passed down in the family.

"When I was a child, my father put on shows for us, using the same slides and dramatic style that his grandfather had used two generations before, at the turn of the century,” says Borton. “Some of those same slides are in our shows today, a hundred years later. I hope that my style is just as dramatic and memorable as great-grandpa's was back then."

The show is appropriate for adults and children over six. Tickets are $15 for adults, children 12 and under and Senior Citizens are $10. Tickets at the door are $20 (cash only) and the lobby will open at 6 p.m. For information and reservations, please go to to purchase tickets or call Anne Payne at (903) 595-7274 for more information. You may also want to check out the website


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