Friday, February 29, 2008

Will The Granada Be Ready For Its Close-Up?

On Tuesday afternoon I had an opportunity to take a tour of the Granada Theater which is in the final stages of restoration.

At the conclusion of the tour I walked away with one big question on my mind: how is the place ever going to be ready in time for next Thursday's opening night gala?

But, I was assured by Vince Coronado of the Granada marketing staff that not only will the theater be ready for the opening night gala on Thursday, it will be ready two days earlier on Tuesday for a special "hard hat" performance where the construction workers who restored and refurbished the 80 plus year old theater will get the opportunity to see the first performance there and presumably admire their work.

And to be sure, there will be a lot to admire. From what I could tell, the Granada's board of directors have spared no expense in restoring this theater to its original glory and then some.

The workers have been putting in 10 hour days six days a week in order to have the theater ready for opening night. Melchiori Construction is the general contractor on the restoration project.

They've installed a state-of-the-art orchestra pit and excavated enough soil to make room for a whole new subterranean level that accommodates rehearsal halls and dressing rooms.

Upstairs, the entrance foyer which was open to State Street has been closed off to create a dramatic and large entrance lobby. Where the snack bar once stood the lobby ends and the theater proper begins. What was formerly the worst four rows of seats in the rear of the theater have been removed.

The theater will have a capacity of 1550. (That's about 700 seats fewer than the Arlington.) The number of elevated boxes, which flank the stage to seat the elite, have been increased from two to ten.

Upstairs is one of the deepest balconies to be found anywhere and the seats have "first class" legroom. Also upstairs is the "McCune Founder's Room" named for Sara Miller McCune, one of the Granada's most generous benefactors.

More than just an upstairs lobby, the Founder's room will be available for community functions, meetings and even wedding receptions.

Back downstairs, the Granada has acquired the former retail space to the south of it where it will operate its own restaurant.

The restoration costs have run in the range of $50 to $60 million for all of this spectacular splendor. Back in December of 2003, Santa Barbara News-Press owner Wendy McCaw, through her foundation, pledged $5 million towards the restoration of the Granada.

A year ago, I reported that McCaw had informed the board of the Granada that she would not be making her annual installment pledge. Has anything changed in that regard since last year? According to the Granada's Executive Director Peter Frisch, "As you know, Ms. McCaw has a ten-year long pledge with us with no specific payment schedule. We have received $1.5 million in payments so far. As we received no payments this past year, we are hoping for another payment by the end of this year."

I guess that Barack Obama isn't the only one who believes in "the audacity of hope."

With or without McCaw's pledge, what's been done to restore the Granada is simply amazing.

Performing at the opening night gala will be the Flamenco Ballet Pablo Pizano, Opera Santa Barbara, State Street Ballet, Santa Barbara Choral Society, and Santa Barbara Symphony, with Nina Bodnar on violin, Warren Jones on piano, and the world-renowned mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves flying in from New York to serve as the evening’s host.

If you want to attend next Thursday's opening night, you can purchase a ticket to the show and Pre-show festivities for only $75 at the Granada's box office located at 1222 State Street (just north of the theatre). For more info visit

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If you're like me and enjoy music from the 60's and 70's you might want to catch this weekend's performance at Santa Barbara High School where the Theatre Arts Department presents "Jeff Barry: Music For A New Generation."

The show - emceed by Hall of Fame song writer Jeff Barry, features 16 of Barry's biggest hits.

The show is at the High School Theatre at 7:00 PM both nights. Tickets are $35.00 for adults and $15.00 for kids and are available at the door. Call 966-9101 Ext 220 for more info.

For the latest on what else is going on around town this weekend check out Tixity's Santa Barbara City Guide.