What calls for special attention is that Carrie Hill and Wade Smith got married in 1920’s style at the renovated and newly opened Lyric Theater in Birmingham. It is the first wedding ceremony at the Lyric since it reopened earlier this year. The wedding party and most of the guests dressed in clothes from the 1920’s. A short black and white movie preceded the ceremony. And the brief service was followed by a reception in the Lyric lobby..
For Carrie Hill and Wade Smith, it all started with an accordion. But we’re not talking about their love story — that’s a much longer tale, beginning with a casual encounter at a dinner organized by the Downtown Social Club.
However as the happy couple exchanged vows on Saturday at Birmingham’s Lyric Theatre, accordion music must have been dancing in their heads. In a very real way, it made this wedding venue possible for them.
Hill, 45, and Smith, 39, are the first couple to get married at the new Lyric, a century-old vaudeville house that’s been restored to pristine glory in Birmingham. They said “I do” during a 6:30 p.m. ceremony on stage, surrounded by family, friends and extreme architectural beauty.
Also, they’re the only couple who’ll get married at the Lyric this year, according to Brant Beene, one of the theater’s key organizers. He said the Lyric — which reopened in January after 30 years of dormancy and a $11.5 million restoration project — isn’t ready for an influx of brides and grooms.
Yet Beene, executive director of Birmingham Landmarks Inc., the nonprofit organization that owns the theater, made an exception for Hill and Smith. And that’s where the accordion comes in.
Over two years ago, when the Lyric was still in disrepair, Hill gave an impromptu accordion performance at the theater, at Beene’s request. Currently Beene has returned the favor, allowing Hill to use the theater for her 1920s-themed wedding, altering the marquee to read “Love at the Lyric Starring Carrie Beth Hill & William Wade Smith.”
“The Lyric takes your breath away,” Hill said. “It’s so beautiful.”
The theater, with its plaster cupids, stenciled murals, glittering chandeliers and graceful opera boxes, could be considered a dream venue for many weddings. However it didn’t look that way in August 2013, when Hill made her Lyric debut.
The interior of the grand old building was dark and shabby, marred by peeling paint, broken seats, rubble in the upper balcony and more. Still, it felt like a magical space to Hill.
“I got chills by playing,” she said. “I got to thinking about all the people who have performed there, and I am actually playing on the stage where Mae West performed. I was so excited. I guess I just fell in love with the place.”
At the time, volunteers were giving tours of the Lyric during the annual Sidewalk Film Festival, trying to spur interest in the theater and raise money for its renewal. Hill, a piano teacher, was playing the accordion outside, hoping to promote a fledging pedicab business.
Beene spotted Hill on the street and seized an opportunity to show off the Lyric’s pin-drop acoustics.
“I said, ‘Hey, get in here and play that accordion on stage at the Lyric’,” Beene recalled. “She gets up and starts playing and the sound fills the whole place.'”
When Hill became engaged to Smith a few months later, her thoughts turned to the Lyric as the ideal spot for their wedding. She secured an OK from Beene, but there was a catch.
Hill and Smith would have to wait for the Lyric to reopen to the public.
“At one point, we talked about something else, but we couldn’t get excited about anything else,” said Smith, a vice president at Tool-Smith Co. who owns a real-estate and self-storage business. “She had really got her heart set, I could tell, and any time we talked about anything else, it was, ‘Well that would work.’ Anything else seemed like a disappointment.”
Thus they bided their time, about two years’ worth. They brainstormed ideas for the ceremony. They watched as the Lyric’s fund-raising and restoration efforts took shape.
When the theater opened its doors in January with three vaudeville-themed shows, Hill and Smith were in the audience, beaming with happiness. The Lyric’s restoration was complete. Even better, the couple finally had set a wedding date.
“I had a constant smile on my face the whole time, looking around,” Hill said. “It took my breath away.”
Hill and Smith, who have a passion for the arts, decided their wedding should be unconventional and entertaining, inspired by Art Deco, the Jazz Age and the Lyric’s color scheme of blue, white and gold.
Therefore, guests were asked to wear Jazz-Age attire — think “The Great Gatsby” or “Downton Abbey,” Smith said — and the bride’s gown was designed with the 1920s in mind. The groom’s off-white tuxedo, although not exactly period, suited the overall theme.
Before the ceremony, guests were greeted outside the Lyric by an accordion player and a fellow in a giraffe costume. Thirty of Hill’s piano students performed duets in the Lyric’s lobby, playing ragtime and blues for more than 300 people in attendance.
In order to make a big entrance, Hill and Smith screened a silent movie as an introduction to the ceremony, blending fantasy and reality. The couple described their film during a recent interview with AL.com.
“It’s a goofy movie of her as a damsel in distress, tied up on the railroad tracks, and me saving her,” Smith said. “Then in the movie, we run through the streets of Birmingham, past Vulcan, and to the Lyric. As we’re getting dressed …”
“We’re taking off clothes, and then we’re putting on clothes as we’re running in, trying to get married,” Hill chimed in. “The the movie burns up at the end, as we’re running into the Lyric. We have a little skit, and we both come on the stage, and we get married on the stage.”
Smith played the villain and the hero in the movie, taking on what Hill called “a challenging dual role.”
To tease the silent film, the couple’s wedding invitations were shaped like movie tickets that read, “Your presence is requested to help rescue Birmingham’s beloved damsel in distress, Carrie Hill, from the dastardly designs of noted scalawag Wade Smith, before the villain can wed her.”
Immediately after the 20-minute ceremony, a lively reception kicked off in the Lyric’s lobby and bar area — with a buffet, cake, drinks, dancing and music by the Silvery Moon Band, a jazz and swing ensemble from Huntsville.
Some friends who couldn’t attend the wedding were there in spirit, Hill said, represented by cardboard cut-outs wearing Jazz-Age finery.
When the party ended around 10 p.m., Hill and Smith made their exit from the Lyric in a shower of paper airplanes folded from sheet music. Their “getaway car” was an antique vehicle Smith won at an auction that benefited Hands On Birmingham.
“Yeah, it’s all pretty wacky,” Smith said. “We got everything the way we wanted it.”
Hill and Smith like to travel, so they’ve scheduled two honeymoons: a skiing trip in Canada and shortly afterward, a visit to Chicago that coincides with his 40th birthday.
They’ll make their home in downtown Birmingham, in a loft that sits above a popular restaurant. And when Hill and Smith celebrate their first anniversary with thawed-out slices of wedding cake, they’ll know they’ve played a small but significant role in the Lyric’s history.
Due to Hill’s accordion skills, they can claim the milestone of Marriage No. 1 at the newly restored Lyric. In fact, they’re probably the only couple to get married there since the theater was built in 1914, said organizer Beene.
For two arts lovers, that seems rather fitting.
“We surround ourselves with art,” Hill said. “We love music, we love storytelling, and I feel that the Lyric is going to be a great place for performances. … We are the Lyric, in a nutshell. Or the Lyric is us.”