Photo by George Pimentel

Toronto’s Iconic Art Deco-Style Paradise Theatre Has Reopened

With an impressive lineup of film screenings, musical performances and comedy acts.

Paradise Theatre has lived many lives since it was born in 1937. In the ’50s, it was a German cinema called Paradise Kino; in the ’60s, it became an Italian filmhouse by the name of Nuovo Cinema Paradise; in the ’80s, it was an adult theatre named Eve’s Paradise. After closing down in 2006, the Art Deco-style theatre has reopened its doors in Toronto’s Bloorcourt neighbourhood.

Its latest iteration sees it combining film screenings with live music and comedy acts, making it a cultural destination for all kinds of tastes and sensibilities. “I love variety. I’m a complete generalist,” says the theatre’s programming director, Jessica Smith, whose previous gigs include stints at the Tribeca Film Festival and TIFF. There’s also an Italian restaurant, Osteria Rialto, on the ground floor and a bar on the floor above called Bar Biltmore, both of which are set to open in January.

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Throwback to 1937 for last night’s event ✨

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Of the theatre’s focus on three distinct types of programming, Smith says it’s a dream job that’s actually three different jobs at the same time. The music and comedy lineup includes acts like Ashley With a Y, a comedy improv show based on a one-woman Fringe performance by Second City alum Ashley Botting; The Basement Revue, a half-music, half-literary variety show that has been a staple of the Toronto arts scene for over a decade; and The Ugly Black Woman, a musical performance by jazz and blues singer Nicky Lawrence.

The theatre’s film calendar includes new releases (currently, that’s The Irishman and Marriage Story) as well as “themed repertory seasons,” which is basically a series of older films all related conceptually, to be screened over the period of a month. Read on for Paradise’s first lineup of themed series.

Toronto Plays Itself
Featuring films set in Toronto—as opposed to films shot in Toronto but ostensibly based elsewhere—this series celebrates the city and its skyline over the course of several decades. From older classics like Nobody Waved Goodbye and Goin’ Down the Road to cult favourites like Outrageous! and contemporary features like Dim the Fluorescents. All in all, the series features 17 Toronto stories spanning 70 years of filmmaking.

Toronto Plays Itself from Paradise on Vimeo.

7 from ’37
This series screens a string of films produced in 1937, the year that Paradise first opened its doors. The lineup includes Oscar-winning classics like The Awful Truth and the original A Star is Born starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, as well as the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musical Shall We Dance and Stage Door, starring Rogers alongside Katharine Hepburn and Lucille Ball.

The Second City at 60
Celebrating 60 years of Second City, the historic improv theatre that opened in Chicago in 1959 (followed by a Toronto outpost in 1973), this series pays tribute to the legendary icons who began their careers in this improv troupe. The series includes films like Waiting for Guffman (starring Toronto alums Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara) and Mean Girls, written by Chicago alum Tina Fey, as well as a special The Best of Second City live show.

The Second City at 60 from Paradise on Vimeo.

A Woman’s Work
An exploration of the ‘female gaze,’ this series features films by an array of women directors, both established and undiscovered. It will include “everything from live-accompanied silent movies to acclaimed contemporary films followed by on-stage discussions,” and is presented in support of Sistering, a non-profit that operates a 24/7 drop-in centre in Bloorcourt for at-risk, socially isolated women.