By Catherine Reese Newton, The Salt Lake Tribune
Downtown Salt Lake City’s George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Theater is open and ready to receive guests. Festivities will continue all weekend, with a gala concert Friday, a day of free performances Saturday and a rare on-the-road broadcast of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s “Music and the Spoken Word” on Sunday.
On Friday, entertainment legend Rita Moreno will emcee a lineup that includes fellow Tony winner Brian Stokes Mitchell, Tony-nominated Megan Hilty and performers from many of Salt Lake City’s top music, dance and theater organizations. Piano man Kurt Bestor will conduct the 60-piece Ballet West Orchestra.
“For the most part, for me [the venue is] a home run,” said Bestor, who was one of a handful of Utahns invited by then-Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker to help select the building’s architect. The musician attended some pre-opening performances in the main hall and was impressed with the acoustics — which, when the occasion warrants, will be reinforced by discreetly placed speakers. And “from my vantage point onstage, I feel much closer to the audience,” he said, pointing to the up-not-out arrangement of the hall’s three seating tiers. (It’s 98 feet from the stage to the rear wall, compared with 106 feet at the nearby Capitol Theatre.)
Bestor delights in showing off the building, from the cupholders in the 2,486-seat Delta Performance Hall (“it’s a different audience than Abravanel Hall”) to the auditorium’s starry ceiling to the sixth-story patio overlooking Main Street. He’s excited about the planned transformation of Regent Street into a pedestrian-friendly lineup of shops and eateries, anchored by the east entrance to the Eccles’ black-box theater.
The $119 million project wasn’t always an easy sell in Utah’s arts and business communities, but Bestor was on board early. “In my analysis of the arts in Salt Lake, from highbrow to lowbrow, it seemed it could justify itself,” he said, noting that many touring acts skip Salt Lake City during the fall and winter when the best performance halls are occupied by resident companies. With more and more new apartments popping up in and around downtown, Bestor is convinced there is an audience base to support more entertainment offerings in more venues. As plans took shape, he concluded the Eccles was a better fit for his long-running Christmas show than Abravanel Hall, its home of 28 years.
He’s equally enthusiastic about the opening show. In addition to conducting the orchestra as it accompanies the Broadway luminaries, Utah Opera Chorus and dancers from Ballet West, Repertory Dance Theatre and Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, Bestor has adapted the guest artists’ musical arrangements for the orchestra and written a couple of pieces for the occasion. One is a fanfare to be played by brass players positioned around the hall, a prospect he described with a music nerd’s glee. He was cagier about the opening and closing numbers, but did divulge that six pianos will be involved.
Moreno likewise declined to give too much away, but told The Tribune’s Scott Pierce, “It sounded like such fun! What they have in mind for the opening number is absolutely spectacular.
“And I have the perfect song to go with the idea that they have,” Moreno said. “So everybody was delighted on their side and I’m thrilled on mine.”