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The show goes on

The Capitol Theatre reopens after almost nine months

The Capitol Theatre reopens after almost nine months

January 12, 2006|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Almost nine months after a chunk of its ceiling fell, injuring several audience members, The Capitol Theatre is set to reopen this Friday with a sold-out musical concert of songs from the popular Broadway composer Andrew Lloyd Webber.

"We're very excited. We think that the signal that the public is sending to us by buying every seat in the house for this show on Friday is a great show of confidence and their desire to get back in the theater," says Paul E. Cullinane Jr., president of Downtown Chambersburg Inc., which owns the theater.

The theater closing left the Chambersburg area without a major venue for several entertainment shows. The theater is the main auditorium at the Capitol Theatre Center in downtown Chambersburg.

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The ceiling collapse occurred April 30, 2005, during "A Salute to Education," when a 4-foot-by-8-foot piece of plaster fell on part of the audience. At least one of the audience members injured that night is expected to attend the grand reopening as a guest of the theater.

The theater relocated several shows, including Washington National Opera singer Corey Rotz to Wilson College the evening after the collapse. Some shows were relocated to Chambersburg Area Senior High School, including Larry Elgart & His Orchestra in July and country singer Aaron Tippin in August.

But without the historic theater's setting, ticket sales suffered and some shows were postponed, says Linda Boeckman, operations manager for The Capitol Theatre.

The "Pop Go the Classics" show with Mac Frampton and the ThreePenny Symphony Orchestra was attended by only 75 people, Boeckman says.

"It was very, very sad. We really felt that the audience would come to the shows because we felt the quality of the shows was that they would want to," she says.

"What we found out is that people like to see shows in the theater," Boeckman says.

Shows like the Glenn Miller Orchestra. The usually popular orchestra show was relocated to Shippensburg University's Memorial Auditorium, but tickets weren't selling, so the show was postponed. The big band orchestra will perform at the theater on July 30.

With lackluster ticket sales and the repair expenses, the not-for-profit theater took a financial hit the extent of which still hasn't been totaled, Boeckman says.

The theater also lost income from theater rentals, such as Chambersburg Ballet Theatre Company and the Chambersburg Community Theatre Inc.

The community theater relocated its May show, "The Robber Bridegroom," but wasn't able to break even, says Executive Director of the community theatre Sally Herritt.

Due to that financial loss and the group's need to have a setting where members can work on weekends to build sets, the group canceled its two fall shows, Herritt says.

Herritt is hopeful the volunteer group will be able to put on one of those shows, "The Odd Couple," next season.

Chambersburg Community Theatre's abbreviated season kicks off March 10 with "While the Lights Were Out." The May show will be "Nunsense."

Caledonia Theatre Company canceled its planned production of "A Christmas Carol," but hopes to have the show next holiday season, Caledonia Executive Director Judy Houser says.

The theater also missed out on some touring companies and performers looking for stopover dates, Boeckman says.

Boeckman estimates that, through the end of September, the theater has lost about $80,000.

Repairs to the original 1927 ceiling, finished in early December, and improvements to other parts of the theater cost about $321,000, theater officials say. The main auditorium's entire ceiling was replaced. Ceilings for the mezzanine, lobby and balcony areas were reanchored.

The theater's ceiling, walls, floor and stage were painted.

The ceiling was painted to feature a decorative design reminiscent of its 1927 look, but that had been painted over in 1948, theater officials say.

Private donors, including the late philanthropist Cora I. Grove, stepped up to help pay for the repairs. Grove was the wife of the late John L. Grove, who helped found area businesses Grove Manufacturing and JLG Industries.

The day before she died, Grove arranged for a $250,000 donation through her will to help with repairs, Boeckman says.

"She and her husband, John, were very community-minded. They focused their attention to the arts, but (also) to a lot of other areas in the community. They were true givers," Cullinane says.

The theater is reopening with "The Best of Broadway Featuring the Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber," a musical show that sold out before Christmas.

The show, which was in the works before the accident, seems like the perfect show with which to reopen, Boeckman says.

"Webber is world-renowned as having beautiful music and great stars of the stage," Boeckman says.

Three of the show's four performers have been in Webber musicals on Broadway, according to the Web site for the touring company, Windwood Theatricals.

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