Orpheum proves that the show must go on

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Orpheum proves that the show must go on

Chasity Pugh

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After nearly a decade, the historic Orpheum Theater will reopen its doors and bring a new sense of hope back to New Orleans, one show at a time.

With a purchase price of $1.5 million, Tipitina’s owners, Roland and Mary Von Kurnatowski and Dr. Eric George, bought the Orpheum Theater in 2014 and spent $15 million in renovations to bring the theater back to its former glory.

As Hurricane Katrina’s 10 year anniversary approaches, the owners will host a private grand opening on Aug. 27, 10 years since the Orpheum last closed its doors.

Jim Atwood, Loyola University New Orleans instructor of percussion and timpanist of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, said that the restored theater is a major step towards the recovery of New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina.

“The Orpheum is a source for music and live entertainment but is also historic to the city. The renewal is important. It is the last example of a theater of its capacity,” Atwood said.

Atwood has been playing for the LPO for over 20 years and will join the orchestra on Sept. 18 for their first perfomance since the Orpheum closed its doors.

“It will be great to be back in there,” Atwood said. “The acoustics on stage are great and we are all very excited to be playing there once again.”

Kristen Shannon, general manager of the theater, said that while they updated some of the theater’s features, the core of the Orpheum remained the same.

“We’ve made many great changes to the theater while still preserving much of its original state,” Shannon said.

According to Shannon, upgrades included new state-of-the-art audio and lighting systems to compliment the theater’s original acoustic layout, a film projector to accommodate new releases and film premieres, an adjustable orchestra floor with removable seating that allow for shifting floor plans, and additional restrooms added to the first floor.

Moreover, renovations such as the terra cotta ceiling in the lobby and the ornate plasterwork throughout the space were all restored by hand. The notable 1921 paint scheme and the theater elevator, which gives the theater the same look and feel for guests, have been restored.

“A unique fact about The Orpheum—it was one of the first theaters in the American south to have an elevator, which has also been fully restored and is now in working condition,” Shannon said.

Shannon believes the reopening will bring locals as well as tourists together to engage in live entertainment experiences.

“We know many are excited to return to the theater—locals and tourists both,” Shannon said. “Because our Grand Opening is taking place during Katrina’s 10-year anniversary, we are expecting many visitors from out-of-town to visit the city and the theater.”

John Reeks, a founding member of LPO and instructor of clarinet at Loyola, said returning to the theater feels like getting a missing part of his life back.

“The Orpheum was the backbone of New Orleans’ cultural life for so many years before Katrina filled it with water,” Reeks said. “But now she’s back and even improved over how we remember her.”

Atwood is grateful to the owners for restoring the theater and encourages others to recognize their efforts.

“The owners who chose to buy it and those responsible for the renovations deserve a big thank you from the city of New Orleans,” Atwood said. “This project holds a sense of commitment that the city deserves.”