Tonight’s the Night – Salt Lake City Opens the Eccles Theater

22 10 2016

160824slc022-hdr-2-4k-1kFinally – it was opening night at the Eccles Theater, the newest addition to the dynamic center of Utah.  On Main Street a block south of Temple Square, Salt Lake City now has one of the best performing arts theaters in North America, and maybe even the world.  Tonight the glamorous tuxedoed and gowned crowd were treated to performances by Broadway stars Megan Hilty,  Brian Stokes Mitchell and Rita Moreno and a party on-stage afterward.  The local press covered the event extensively.  Here are links to some of the stories.

10/20  Welcome to the Eccles: Salt Lake City’s New Theater Opens With an Array of Guests


10/18  Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony heaps praise on new $119 million Eccles Theater downtown

10/16    New theater, skyscraper, plaza set the stage for downtown’s next big act

10/16  With Eccles Theater, a new curtain rises in Salt Lake City’s love affair with theater

10/16  The Playhouse That Ralph Built ? Ex-mayor sees it as a ‘source of joy … for years to come’

10/14  New Eccles Theater Opens Oct. 21, joining Salt Lake County’s ‘family of beautiful venues’

160911slc075-1-4k-1k10/9   Rita Moreno Will Emcee Eccles Theater Opener

10/6  New Eccles Theater Gears Up For Its Debut



27 05 2016

Another year, another smash season on Broadway.  Times Square is so jammed with theater-goers and tourists every evening that it is quicker to walk a long block over to Eight Avenue rather than try to navigate through the crowds on Broadway to reach most theaters.  Business on the Great White Way is booming, with the season just ended in May being the biggest year ever.160421NYC016-2k

I spent last week last week at the Broadway League’s Spring Road Conference, being wined and dined by the producers of new shows contending for a Tony award.  Where do I start?  There are so many good shows this season.

Two outstanding revivals are on everyone’s “must see” list.  A new Fiddler on the Roof, directed by Bartlett Sher (South Pacific and King & I) is gorgeous with many outstanding performances including Tony nominee Danny Burstein (Tevye).  A new production of the Color Purple, directed by Scot John Doyle (Sweeney Todd),  has been hailed as “A Miracle on Broadway, a Glory to Behold” by the NY Times.   160423NYC005-2k

With  music  and  lyrics  by  the  Fiddler  team  of  Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick,  She  Loves  Me  is  a  gem  and  a  classic.    The  stars,  Laura  Benanti  and  Zachary  Levi,  give  brilliant  performances  and  David  Rockwell’s  set  just  might  win  a  Tony.

American Psycho has not had many favorable reviews.  But if one can get past all the blood and violence, the show delivers a stylish, flashy piece of theater with great music by Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening).160421NYC011-2k

School of Rock is entertaining and amusing.  The audiences are packed with teenage wannabes rocking out to music played by teenage actors, who are very talented musicians. And, for his latest effort,  Lord Andrew Lloyd-Webber received many positive reviews, something that hasn’t happened with his last few shows.

Bright Star is a warm-hearted bluegrass musical written by comedian Steve Martin and singer/writer Edie Brickell with a double-wedding happy ending.  Lead actress Carmen Cusak should win the Tony for her superb performance.160519NYC004-2k

Based on the 2007 film, Waitress  is another feel-good, happy-ending musical. It even sends the appetizing smells of fresh-baked pies  into the audience to ensure everyone walks out with a smile on their face.  The music and lyrics are by pop singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles.  Reviewers call the show “fresh and delicious”, “mouth-watering” and “love at first bite”.

Shuffle Along is a star-studded revival/re-imagination of the 1921 all-black musical, the first of its kind to succeed on Broadway.  With an infectious jazz score and exuberant dancing, headliners Audra MacDonald and Brian Stokes Mitchell and choreographer-mega-tap-dancer Savion Glover, the show arrived on Broadway with high expectations.  And it meets most of them, delivering “a dazzling production that celebrates art, dreams, and equality.”

And, of course, there is the ticket-buyers’ favorite, Hamilton, which has the biggest advance sales of any Broadway show.  Producer Jeffrey Seller (Rent, In the Heights) invited the conference attendees into the Richard Rogers Theatre Monday afternoon for a face-to-face with Lin Manuel Miranda and all the other nominees. It has a record 16 nominations.   If that wasn’t enough to secure every Tony vote, the show threw the biggest and flashiest party of the conference, in the trendy meat-packing district at Barry Diller’s IAC headquarters building.160423NYC019-2k

Phew.  It is exhausting work (and great fun), attending the Spring Road Conference, but someone has to do it.

Which shows from this season will come to the Eccles Theater in Salt Lake City?  My best guess is School of Rock, Hamilton and Bright Star.  Two other possibilities are Waitress and Shuffle Along.

Don’t forget to watch the Tony Awards Show on Sunday, June 12.


17 12 2015

I spent last week in London, looking for new shows that we might bring to Utah. While I probably came up empty-handed, I did have many fun evenings (and one afternoon) in the theater.

1208152047-2kThe National Theatre was my first stop. The hottest ticket in their four venues was Jane Eyre, from Bronte’s famous novel. Its good reviews and a filming for broadcast that night meant that not even one ticket was available.

So I went to see with music by Damon Albarn of the band Blur, a rather predictable re-telling of Alice’s story, where she gets lost in a video game on the internet. It is colorful, zany and has the usual high production values of the NT.151209Lon014-HDR-2k

I had to see the show MagicSpace Entertainment is co-producing, The Illusionists. This is the first extended West End run by the group that has played Broadway and toured the world successfully. It featured UK TV star Jamie Raven.

The most visible new musical is Sunny Afternoon, which has been running since May. Based on the Kinks music and loosely on the life of leader Ray Davies. A fun, funny and often painful ride thru the 60’s and 70’s with the many hits that the rock genius Davies churned out.151210Lon070-2k

Hangmen – another dark, Irish, alcohol-fueled drama by prolific playwright Martin McDonagh. (Cripple of Inishmaan, Pillowman.) Not surprisingly, most of the action occurs in a pub owned by a former hangman and, when the play isn’t making you uncomfortable and anxious, it is full of dark humor belly-laughs.

151212Lon039-2kBend It Like Beckham – based on the successful movie and running since May, the story of a young Sikh girl who joins the local soccer team without telling her traditional Indian family. Filled with colorful, gaudy Bollywood costumes and choreography, it is a feelgood celebration of British multiculturalism, with a happy ending, of course.

151210Lon079-2kDerren Brown – Miracle – the popular British illusionist/mind reader keeps the audience spellbound with stunts that include teaching an audience member to eat a light bulb and using faith-healing to cure audience ills from back pain to sports injuries to tinnitus. I’m still trying to figure out how he does the faith-healing.

I didn’t get to see one hit musical, because its run was totally sold out. At the tiny Menier Chocolate Factory Theatre is a new production of Funny Girl . Reviewers are raving about the star, Sheridan Smith. The show will transfer to the West End in April, and is already rumored to be headed for Broadway.

To see more images of London, theaters, markets and shops, click on this link – Ballard Photographix.


10 08 2015

The musical The Book of Mormon closed a two-week run in Salt Lake City yesterday.   A list of links to reviews and press coverage is below.

the Capitol Theatre

the Capitol Theatre


Review, 7/30/15 – . If you can set aside the profanity and crudeness, there’s no better place in the world to watch The “Book of Mormon” musical than Salt Lake City.

Story, 7/26/15 – Now comes a book of essays by writers and scholars analyzing how the raunchy, satirical play fits — or doesn’t — in the traditions of the contemporary musical canon.

Story, 7/24/15 – No matter your opinion about that profane, sweet little “Book of Mormon” musical — perhaps you’ve heard of it — there’s a special thrill to a story about Mormon missionaries unfolding in front of a Broadway set depicting the Salt Lake LDS Temple spires that exist just two blocks away from downtown’s Capitol Theatre.

Op-Ed, 8/8/15 – Thanks, Book of Mormon musical, for provoking my thoughts


Review, 7/31/15 – Without the overdose of obscenity, ‘The Book of Mormon’ would have been a delight

Story, 7/27/15 – Profane and acclaimed: ‘The Book of Mormon’ musical arrives in Salt Lake City

Story, 7/30/15 – To be fair, I haven’t seen the show. But I’ve heard the soundtrack in its entirety, and I’ve read the synopsis.

OpEd, 8/4/15 – Why the message behind ‘The Book of Mormon’ musical is so troubling


Story, 6/23/15 – The Book of Mormon Comes Home


Story, 7/28/15 – Two blocks from LDS Church headquarters, ‘The Book of Mormon’ musical premieres


Review, 7/31/15 – “Book of Mormon” Musical Brings Hilarity, Controversy to Salt Lake


Review, 7/30/15 – If you wanted to get a sense for how ready a Utah audience was for The Book of Mormon, you only needed to wait until the end of the opening musical number, “Hello.”


Review, 7/31/15 – Say “Hello” to hilarious satire and surprising depth in THE BOOK OF MORMON


Story, 8/4/15 – ‘Book of Mormon’ keeps finding believers


Story, 8/2/15 – The Tony Award-winning musical, The Book of Mormon, opened in Salt Lake City last week.


Review, 7/31/15 – Hello, Salt Lake City. “The Book of Mormon” in Sal Tlay Ka Siti is something incredible.


Story, 7/28/15 – The biting satirical musical that mocks Mormons has finally come to the heart of Mormonlandia


27 05 2015

150527SLC003-2kIt’s Tony time again, and I spent most of a week in New York City recently seeing as many new shows as possible. I also attended the Spring Road Conference of the Broadway League, which meant I had to be entertained by the producers and casts of hit shows while being fed lunch or offered free drinks.    It is rough work.

150324NYC073-2kThe big winners of Tony nominations in the musical category are Fun Home, American in Paris and Something Rotten. In new plays Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime and Hand to God got the most attention.

Since I book mostly musicals for the Capitol Theatre, I don’t get to see many plays. There are wonderful musical revivals – On the Town, On the Twentieth Century with Kristin Chenowith and a big production of The King and I at Lincoln Center. King & I is directed by wunderkind Bartlett Sher (South Pacific, Light in the Piazza) and stars one of Broadway’s top leading ladies, Kelli O’Hara. While Chenowith was a dynamo in the hilarious Twentieth Century, I am rooting for King & I. It is one of the all-time great musicals, by Rodgers & Hammerstein, and the production is beautiful, elegant and engaging. I must admit to personal prejudice, however, as I have known Bart Sher since we were kids and Kelli O’Hara went to the same college as my wife, Oklahoma City University.   Coincidentally, Kristin Chenowith also went to OCU.150324NYC067-2k

In new musicals, there are so many, and most are very good. Finding Neverland, based on the movie, didn’t receive any Tony noms, but it is fun, audiences love it and it is selling lots of tickets. There were high hopes for Doctor Zhivago , but it closed after only 23 performances. The Visit, starring a grande dame of the theater Chita Rivera, has music by Kander and Ebb (Chicago) and a dark plot from a Friedrich Durrenmatt story, received much critical acclaim. The whole story was too depressing for me, though it is great theater.

Fun Home is the darling of the critics, based on a coming-of-age novel by Alison Bechdel , with music by Jeanine Tesori (Shrek, Caroline or Change). The big name star Michael Cerveris is upstaged by four actresses, all of whom received Tony nominations. The story is difficult, with much unhappiness and dysfunction. I walked out of the theater angry at the father (Cerveris) and the writer. It should win lots of Tonys.

150326NYC057-2kAmerican in Paris is a smash, with dancer Robert Fairchild (born in Salt Lake City and trained at Ballet West) in the lead role being called “better than Gene Kelly”. Direction and choreography by Christopher Wheeldon are certain to receive at least one Tony, if not two.

My favorite is Something Rotten, a hilarious spoof on Shakespeare and musical theater, set in in 1595. It was called “the funniest musical in 400 years” by TimeOut. Two stars are contenders for Tonys – Brian D’Arcy James (played SLC in 1995 in Les Miz, starred in Shrek on Broadway) and Christian Borle (plays an obnoxious, devious rockstar Shakespeare). Both men had major roles in the TV show “Smash”. I think Borle must win a Tony – but what do I know.

150324NYC076-2kThe standout new play is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which comes from a novel by Mark Haddon and a London production by the National Theatre. The lead, Alex Sharp, could win Best Actor. The play is gripping, ground-breaking, heart-breaking and frightening.

And I shouldn’t forget the biggest hit of the year – Hamilton – which hasn’t been nominated for even one Tony. With music, lyrics and book by and starring Lin-Manuel Miranda (In the Heights), this show tells the story of US founding father Alexander Hamilton,150512NYC003-2k based on a biography by Ron Chernow. At the 2015 Lucille Lortel Awards, Hamilton took home 10 trophies, winning in every category it was nominated. Opening on Broadway in July, Hamilton already looks like it will be a winner in the 2016 Tony Awards.


3 01 2015
View from Main St - 2016 & today

View from Main St – 2016 & today

Construction is moving quickly upward on the performing arts center on Main Street and the adjacent office tower.

Main Street Demolition

Main Street Demolition

After five months of demolition work, the site was cleared and ready for foundation work. Pilings for the office were pounded in to the ground in August and concrete pours for the theater began in September. The first steel beams were erected in mid-November. The building has started to take a recognizable shape and one can even see where the stage, seating and lobby will be.

Lower lobby, Main Street on the left

Lower lobby, Main Street on the left

Last week I was able to walk through the construction with members of the development team and Salt Lake City mayor Ralph Becker.

Mayor Beck and Steve Swisher

Mayor Becker and Steve Swisher

Steve Swisher, from developer Garfield Traub Swisher led the tour and pointed out some of the critical places in the plan.

One spot was the barely foot-wide space between the two buildings, which gives them room to sway in an earthquake without colliding.

After our site visit, we tested examples of the theater seats, from three different possible manufacturers. All were of a similar salmon-colored fabric with wood backs. Each brand of seat looked good to me, but I wasn’t on the committee that would vote and decide the winner.

Prototype seats for the Eccles

Prototype seats for the Eccles

Building an office tower at the same time as the theater is a complicated project, but the fact that the office will be cantilevered over the top of the theater means that the construction timetable is even more difficult. All steel work for the theater must be finished by February 1 if the tower’s development/fabrication schedule is to be met. With the tower and theater being built by two different construction companies, coordination of schedules is critical.  So far, everything is on time and the Eccles Theater should be ready to open by summer 2016.

from backstage, looking toward Main Street

from backstage, looking toward Main Street


4 08 2014

Since the beginning of the year, quite a lot of progress has been made on Salt Lake City’s newest Main Street project.

Main Street March 11

Main Street, March 11

Almost half a block of concrete, brick and steel has been turned into rubble and trucked away, but not without some unforeseen problems. The tallest of the three buildings had undiscovered asbestos that had to be removed carefully, and had an unusual support beam configuration that required extra time and three very big cranes to dismantle.

The last beam, June 9

The last beam, June 9

Construction has started on the 24-story office at the corner of Main and 100 South, with a tower crane installed last week.

In June, the new theater had its formal groundbreaking along with the announcement of a generous $15 million gift by the Eccles Foundation. In recognition of the gift, the performing arts center will be named the George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Theater. Other donors to the project include the Larry H. and Gail Miller Family Foundation and Delta Air Lines.



The Deseret News and the Salt Lake Tribune both carried stories about the naming announcement.

If you look over the top of the construction gates of peer down from the Regent Street parking lot, you see a very large hole with dump trucks, earthmovers, excavators and rock crushers diligently making it even deeper. In less than two years, this crater will be filled with a state-of-the-art performing arts center equal to any other in North America.

Main Street, July 31

Main Street, July 31