By Emma Penrod, The Salt Lake Tribune
Patrons at Saturday’s public open house for the new George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Theater had high hopes for the venue — but mostly, they are waiting for its large, modern stage to bring Broadway’s “Hamilton” to Salt Lake City.
By noon, event staff said they had admitted nearly 1,500 guests to the Saturday open house, which was free to all comers from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The event opened in the morning to a sizable line. Traffic moved more smoothly toward midday, but the crowd continued to pour in steadily.
Though invited to explore most every nook and cranny of the new venue, many locals cut straight to the heart of the matter: the central 2,486-seat Delta Performance Hall. Marleen Skabelund, a Bountiful resident, said she spent her day trying as many seats as possible, from the third-tier balconies to the floor in front of the stage.
“The seats are incredible,” she said. “They’re wide enough, soft, and have lots of leg room. There truly isn’t a bad seat.”
At the same time, she said, she’s wondered about the theater’s ability to fill those seats.
“When you have to fill 2,500 seats, and parking has always been tricky, even though they say it’s not — I hope they will do well here,” she said. “It’s going to be really expensive for a lot of people to get here, so I hope they will have some things that will be cheaper, for the masses of humanity that will want to come.”
Local musicians invited to make appearances during the open house were pleased to break in the new venue, which they said had excellent acoustics and modern amenities that came equipped with all the latest technologies.
Katherine St. John, the director of Eastern Arts, a collection of artists and scholars specializing in the traditional music and dance from the Middle East and Central Asia, said she was initially skeptical that Salt Lake City needed a new theater. But after playing there on Saturday, she said, she was convinced that the Eccles Theater had the potential to bring in productions — things like Broadway theater and major comedy acts — that otherwise could not be seen in Utah.
In between the many short performances, guests milled about the theater, commenting on physical features they described as beautiful and majestic.
“The stars on the ceiling, and the colors…,” Patricia Sandberg, a Salt Lake City resident, trailed off.
“I think it’s a nice thing they’ve done, to incorporate the colors of southern Utah,” her daughter-in-law, Valerie Gonzales, finished.
But some who toured the theater were less impressed with the lineup for its first season. Dan and Deborah Farr, a couple from Anchorage, Alaska, said they had been tracking construction of the Eccles Yheater for years during the twice-yearly vacations in Salt Lake City.
While excited to finally tour the completed venue — Dan is an architect — they said not a single show interests them this season.
While other guests were quick to name upcoming shows they anticipated seeing — “Kinky Boots,” one said; Johnny Mathis, another — most said their greatest hope was that the new theater would attract top Broadway productions, especially the current hit, “Hamilton.” The musical is expected to arrive in Salt Lake City during the 2017-2018 season.
“It will be nice to see big stuff like ‘Hamilton,” said Riley Bergstedt, a Sugar House resident. “Especially in what appears to be as close to a world-class theater as you get.”