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With Eccles Theater, a new curtain rises in Salt Lake City’s love affair with theater

First Published      Last Updated Oct 27 2016 04:57 am

Opening of a downtown arts complex draws the curtain on a new act in Salt Lake City’s love affair with stage productions.

In the ongoing saga of Salt Lake City's historic love affair with theater, now comes the big reveal of a second act: the debut of Main Street's George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Theater.

After years in the planning stages, next weekend's grand opening gala will inaugurate the $119 million addition to downtown's cultural core. It's the second of three major theater openings in Utah planned this year, a building boom that's unprecedented in the country, say national industry officials.

The Eccles Theater, jointly owned by the city and county and a longtime urban priority for former Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, is "purpose built" as a roadhouse for touring Broadway musicals, concerts and other theatrical performances. It joins the Capitol Theatre, a historic vaudeville house, one block to the west, which was renovated to serve as the home for Ballet West and Utah Opera.

Take a virtual tour of the Eccles Theater.

Also in the downtown cultural portfolio are the Utah Symphony's Abravanel Hall, two blocks northwest, and the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, two blocks to the southwest, home to six dance, theater and music nonprofit arts companies.

An intimate space with nearly 2,500 seats • Opening the Eccles Theater is part of a years-long goal to create "the right-size venue for the right-size work," says Phil Jordan, director of Salt Lake County's Center for the Arts, which will operate the complex, as well as the three other downtown cultural venues. "There's not a bad seat in the house, in my opinion. This is as best an intimate setting that you can have with 2,486 chairs."

Designed by Connecticut-based Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects in conjunction with the local office of HKS Architects, the theater features a soaring, light-flooded lobby six stories high, which includes public art projects in the colorful glass balconies and a marble-and-glass terrazzo floor. The lobby's entrances are walls of glass curtains that can open onto Main Street to create a space termed the Winter Garden.

The desire for a generous lobby space meant the theater was "squished" or built upward, with three balconies above the orchestra level. Those balconies contribute to what's a relatively short distance — 98 feet — from the stage to the back wall, compared with a 106-foot distance at the Capitol Theatre.

The copper- and rust-colored furnishings in the main Delta Performance Hall are meant to evoke the striated sandstone layers in southern Utah. One of the hall's most visually prominent design elements is the ceiling's star field, reminiscent of the state's wide-open night skies, even if the lighting patterns are "nonastronomically correct," says Jeff Gwilliam, the county's theater operations manager.

What's Neil deGrasse Tyson going to say about that? That's one of the joking questions Gwilliam has heard while taking people on tours of the facility, referring to the astrophysicist's upcoming February lecture at the theater.

The star field, which incorporates larger globes to represent planets, serves as a creative, yet relatively inexpensive way to dress the ceiling, while also providing a variety of lighting effects that producers could incorporate into shows. It's coupled with dramatic acrylic globe lights underneath the balconies.

"The lighting in this facility," Gwilliam says, "is very much an architectural design."

Arts in Zion • In the arts nonprofit world, producers cheer the completion of the spectacular complex at the same time they worry about competition for ticket sales, particularly in the holiday season.

"What I hope it will do is invigorate more people to go to live performances all the time," says R. Scott Phillips, retiring executive director at Cedar City's Utah Shakespeare Festival, which opened two new theaters in the $39 million Beverley Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts this summer.

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Eccles gala opening

Premier Performance » Rita Moreno will emcee the event, with performers including Tony winner Brian Stokes Mitchell, Tony-nominated Megan Hilty (of TV’s “Smash”) and performers from Ballet West, Repertory Dance Theatre, Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, Utah Opera Chorus and the University of Utah theater department.

When » Friday, Oct. 21, 7:30 p.m.

Where » Eccles Theater, 131 S. Main, Salt Lake City

Tickets » $50-$200, available at the box office, at artsaltlake.org or by calling 801-355-2787; ticket holders will be invited to a post-show celebration on Regent Street. Dress is black tie (encouraged, not required).

Saturday Open House

Free performances throughout the Eccles Theater complex are set on Saturday, Oct. 22:

10-11:45 a.m. » Aspen Winds, Chitrakaavya Dance, Chrome Street Quartet, Columbia Jones, Eastern Arts, Finding Kate, Jim Fish, Myriad Dance Company, New Zealand-American Society, Ophir Creek, Rusty Shovels, Unity Gospel Choir, Utah Children’s Theatre Company, Utah Repertory Theater, Utah Symphony, Wing & Claw

Noon-1:45 p.m. » Anabil Chaudhuri, Aspen Winds, Ben Brinton, Canyons, Carlos Emjay / A Band Called Earthrise, Chrome Street Quartet, Columbia Jones, Dallyn Vail Bayles, Khemera Dance Troupe, Nino Reyos / Harry James, Plan-B Theatre, Rebecca Aneloski, Salt Lake Vocal Artists, Tablado Dance Company, The Runaway Blues, Utah’Ko Triskalariak, Utah Opera, Vocal Point, Wing & Claw

2-5 p.m. » Alyssa Pyper, Ballet Folklorico Citlali, Children’s Dance Theatre, Gabino Flores, Hectic Hobo, Jim Guss Trio, Joshy Soul, Los Spanglos, Mariachi de Mi Tierra, Rumba Libre Band, Salt Lake Electric Ensemble, Samba Fogo, Svengali Jazz Quartet, Talia Keys, The Bboy Federation, The Joe McQueen Quartet, The Riverton High School Music, Dance & Theatre Class, Tom Call Sextet, Utah’Ko Triskalariak, VCR5, Vocal Point, Wasatch Music Coaching Academy Funk Band, Who’s Louis? Theatre Company

More information » artsaltlake.org/events/eccles-theater

Eccles by the numbers

185,000 square feet

3.8 million pounds of concrete

4.4 million pounds of structural steel

10,223 square feet of stage flooring

2,500-seat Delta Performance Hall

150-250 seat Black Box theater and event space

1,350-square-foot rehearsal room

1,000 stalls in Regent Street parking garage

115 new permanent jobs expected to be created after opening

1,600 jobs created by construction

$1 million anticipated in new property tax revenue

$200-$450 for Broadway season tickets

$52 average price of a single Broadway series ticket