By Erica Hansen, Deseret News
Every so often, one finds oneself standing in the midst of an event and feeling “this feels like a different city; just doesn’t feel like Salt Lake.”
Such was the case at Friday night’s premier performance at the brand new $15 million George S. and Delores Dore Eccles Theater.
Decked out in black tie and gowns, guests hobnobbed through the six-story grand lobby (that has retractable glass walls, not employed for the first performance) making their way into the 2,500-seat Delta Performance Hall.
The new “beacon of light and energy” on Main Street has Salt Lake City feeling like a little big city. Or as Spencer F. Eccles, chairman and CEO of the Eccles Foundation, said in his welcome address, “we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
With Kurt Bestor at the baton, and after Mayors Jackie Biskupski and Ben McAdams welcomed the guests, the Ballet West orchestra played Fantasia for Theater and Pianists, arranged by Bestor, and the Utah Opera chorus performed Wagner’s Tannhauser.
With other guest appearances by Ballet West, Repertory Dance Theatre, Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company and the University of Utah Department of Theater, the emphasis on the multi-use aspect of the facility was clear.
But the real ringers of the evening were the Broadway heavy-hitters brought in to christen the performance hall.
The evening was hosted by 84-year-old Broadway legend Rita Moreno, who boasts a career spanning six decades. Opening with “I Love a Piano,” her sparkly stage presence defied her years. This number also allowed the theater to show off a neat effect: a platform at the front of the stage that rises and lowers — this time bringing three grand pianos to the stage to accompany Moreno as she sang.
Broadway and television star Megan Hilty took the stage in a floor-length black gown. Hilty, known for her roles as Glinda in Broadway’s “Wicked” and Ivy Lynn from NBC’s musical “Smash,” referenced the “baby bump in the room,” referring to her stomach. “I wouldn’t want you tweeting “she’s really let herself go,” she joked. Hilty dazzled with songs from “Wicked” — a Salt Lake City favorite. She sang “Popular” and “For Good” before showing off her amazing range by belting out, “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend.”
The Eccles light design was beautiful. With a large LED screen at the back of the stage, the theater used projections to very nice effect, adding mood, lighting or scenery to various songs.
When Moreno introduced the next musical guest, the evening really kicked up a notch. Brian Stokes Mitchell has become a local favorite, having visited Salt Lake City numerous times and joining the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in 2008. Mitchell has numerous Broadway credits to his name, including “Ragtime,” “Kiss Me Kate,” “Man of La Mancha” and “Porgy and Bess,” and has graced the stages of the nation’s finest concert halls.
What a treat to have him kick off this brand new tradition.
After opening with “I’m Feelin’ Good,” he casually chatted with the guests, noting “every theater has a different personality.”
When Mitchell dedicated his next song, “Stars” (Les Miserables) to Spencer Eccles, the theater’s starry starry ceiling lights were the perfect effect.
Before he rounded out his set — stunning renditions of “America the Beautiful” and “Wheels of a Dream” from “Ragtime” — he noted what a treasure this beautiful new theater is. “As Bernstein would say, ‘take care of this house.'”
The evening finished with all participants on the stage in a rush of music and movement, a fine energy to fill this beautiful new venue. And a definite step toward Salt Lake feeling like a big city.