The curtain rises

Shippensburg University's Luhrs Center opens grandly with headliner Wynton Marsalis

Shippensburg University's Luhrs Center opens grandly with headliner Wynton Marsalis

January 23, 2006|by KRISTIN WILSON

SHIPPENSBURG, Pa. - The furniture is in place, the paint is dry and officials at Pennsylvania's Shippensburg University are ready to open the doors to the brand new, $20 million H. Ric Luhrs Performing Arts Center.

With a grand opening performance by the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis Thursday, Jan. 19, the 1,500-seat Luhrs Center will put itself on the performing arts map as one of the largest theaters between Harrisburg, Pa., and Harrisonburg, Va., says Jeffrey Sommer, the center's director of marketing and administrative services.

The center is named for the late H. Ric Luhrs, who was a member of the Shippensburg University Foundation's board of directors, according to the center's Web site. Luhrs, who died in November 2004, was president of The Beistle Company in Shippensburg.


The grand opening will also mark the culmination of a 20-year dream of former leaders of the university to bring a cultural and arts Mecca to South-Central Pennsylvania.

The Luhrs Center's main theater, named the Grove Theatre, includes a balcony, six balcony boxes and a large orchestra seating section. The theater was designed to give both audiences and performers a quality venue for enjoying lectures, concerts or stand-up comedy routines.

"The way the theater was configured there are no obstructions," Sommer says. "The gradual slope of the theater makes it so any seat is the best seat in the house."

The Luhrs Center "really is a regional performing arts center," Sommer says. It was designed to attract a variety of acts, from traditional orchestra performances to pop concerts to off-Broadway traveling theater shows.

The center's inaugural season is a reflection of what theater officials have planned for the future, Sommer says. Marsalis will be followed by a performance by the Ailey II Dance Company, a concert by the River City Brass Band and a theater company performance of "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde."

The year will also bring to Southern Pennsylvania audiences big name acts like the Charlie Daniels Band, "Saturday Night Live" comedian Darrell Hammond and B.J. Thomas and Gary Puckett.

"The season was designed in a way that we could hit every type of patron of the performing arts," Sommer says. "Country (music) is a big part of this area, but we also have people who want to see theater troupes and dance companies."

Grove Theatre includes other special features like in-house closed-circuit television broadcasting, state of the art sound systems and the latest in stage equipment. The theater is completely handicapped-accessible with 48 handicapped-accessible seats.

It also features a hydraulic lift orchestra pit that can be lowered to subtheater level to create a traditional pit, positioned at theater level for close-to-the-stage seating, or raised to extend the stage.

The size of the venue is helping the performing arts center attract bigger acts, Sommer says. And university officials hope that bigger names will renew interest in the performing arts among Tri-State region audiences.

"I think once (people) get in here they're going to want to come back," Sommer says.

About the Luhrs Center's 2006 season ...

The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis will kick off the Luhrs Center inaugural season with a grand opening concert at 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 19.

Tickets to see Marsalis, considered to be one of the most accomplished jazz musicians and composers of his generation, are almost sold out, according to Jeffrey Sommer, the center's director of marketing and administrative services. Marsalis has won nine Grammy Awards for his music and a Pulitzer Prize in music for his composition "Blood on the Fields."

Marsalis is now devoting his energies to helping with rebuilding efforts in New Orleans, the city where he was born. In addition to opening a residency program in The Big Easy, Marsalis is composing music that he intends to dedicate to the City of New Orleans, says Zooey Tidal, assistant director of public relations for Jazz at Lincoln Center.

For more information or to purchase tickets call 1-717-477-7469 or go to

Other entertainment this season includes:

Tuesday, Jan. 24 - Ailey II Dance Company.

Saturday, Feb. 4 - River City Brass Band.

Thursday, March 2 - Aquila Theatre Company presents "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." A musical adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson novel.

Friday, March 24 - Stand-up comedy with Darrell Hammond. Hammond, a "Saturday Night Live" actor and comedian, is known for his impressions of politicians and celebrity personalities including Bill Clinton, John Ashcroft, Al Gore, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Regis Philbin and Tom Brokaw.

Saturday, April 8 - The Charlie Daniels Band. The band is known for hits including "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," "Uneasy Rider" and "Long Haired Country Boy."

Thursday, April 20 - Woody's Children. Performance by folk artists Tom Chapin, Christine Lavin and Work O' the Weavers.

Friday, April 28 - Maynard Ferguson and the Big Bop Nouveau Band.

Saturday, June 3 - B.J. Thomas and Gary Puckett.

Thursdays, July 13, 20 and 27 - Summer music festival at Shippensburg University. Includes three concerts by the festival chamber orchestra. The first concert will be guest conducted by Elizabeth Schulze, conductor of the Maryland Symphony Orchestra.

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