The Saenger Theatre opened its doors Sept. 27 for the first time since Hurricane Katrina closed the Canal Street landmark in 2005. Under new twinkling fiber optic ceiling stars — part of a $52 million renovation — Mayor Mitch Landrieu proclaimed the project a symbol "of resurrection, redemption, resilience, of building the city not back the way she was but the way she should have always been."
The theater was built in 1927 and the team of public-private entities responsible for its renovation — including the Canal Street Development Corporation, Ace Theatrical Group and the City of New Orleans — restored the building to reflect the original, with modern accoutrements like an expanded stage to accommodate modern mega-productions. The dashing red carpet is reminiscent of the original, and everything from the chandeliers to the paint scheme was researched for historical accuracy and constructed to reflect the building's original interior. "All of the work that you see here is a reincarnation of the original designs and the original paintings," Landrieu said.
The Saenger will host a slew of Broadway shows, musical, comedic and stage acts, including a grand opening performance by Kristin Chenoweth and the Louisiana Philharmonic Oct. 5. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld performed three shows during the weekend's soft opening. New Orleans is the third largest producer of Hollywood films, behind New York and Los Angeles, due to film credits, and will have an originating tax credit for Broadway productions as well, Landrieu said, "because, in order for this thing to work, these seats have to be full, and the productions have to be great."
Broadway Across America President Lauren Reid said "New Orleans will now be a destination for Broadway's best and brightest."
Though the opening is one of the most anticipated post-Katrina rebuilding efforts and a linchpin of the Canal Street corridor rehabilitation, Landrieu said "there's other stuff going on. This is not the only thing that's happening as you think about what is occurring just in this general space, in these two square miles. You have the VA and UMC hospitals, $2 million coming out of the ground as we speak."
New Orleans City Council President Jackie Clarkson was in the Saenger for her fifth birthday, before World War II. "Thanks for the memories," she said. "Many a tale has been woven in this edifice."
After dozens of dignitaries squeezed behind a gold ribbon for a photo op, the curtains of the Saenger opened to display its historic SAENGER letters, lighted and floating on the newly revealed stage. "You have this before you today," Landrieu said. "It's a gift to the people of the city of New Orleans." — JEANIE RIESS