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A pristine Pantages

Broadway Center becomes Tacoma Arts Live

As part of the latest phase of renovation, the Tacoma Pantages Theater added approximately 125 new seats. Photo credit: Christian Carvajal

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Tacoma's Pantages Theater, part of the arts-and-culture complex known for decades as Broadway Center Tacoma, reopens this week after stunning renovations to its interior. That's not the only big news coming out of 901 Broadway, though -- The organization also changed its name, from Broadway Center to Tacoma Arts Live.

"The name Tacoma Arts Live better reflects who we are and what we do," said Mariesa Bus, TAL's associate director of communications and grants. A study showed people associated the name "Broadway Center" primarily with Broadway-style musical theater, and that's only a line on TAL's appetizing menu. "Though our name has changed," says Bus, "our mission of ‘energizing community through live performance' remains the same."

Greek-American impresario Alexander Pantages financed the design and construction of the "San Francisco Pantages Theater" in January 1918. That original project, erected on the site of the Gritty City's first library, cost $400,000. Its architect was Scots immigrant B. Marcus Priteca. "Any damn fool," Priteca was once quoted as saying, "can make a place look like a million dollars by spending a million dollars, but it's not everybody who can do the same thing for half a million." Priteca subsequently designed over 100 other theaters including the Coliseum in Seattle and Pantages in Hollywood.

Originally, Tacoma's Pantages housed offices and a vaudeville theater. Fourteen years later, it was redesigned as a cinema and redubbed the Orpheum, then the Roxy. It returned to its former glory in 1983 as, once again, the Pantages Theater. The press was given a peek at the building's new interior Monday, Nov. 12. The general public gets its own first look the night of Thursday, Nov. 15, when the Pantages hosts Tchaikovskian mash-up The Hip Hop Nutcracker with MC Kurtis Blow. On Saturday, Symphony Tacoma returns for an evening of Berlioz, Charbrier and Prokoviev conducted by Sarah Ioannides. The Pantages will also host two of November's biggest holiday events, Glee star Jane Lynch -- A Swingin' Little Christmas (Nov. 23) and Frogz from famed Portland, Oregon, company Imago Theatre.

In December's Pantages lineup, Symphony Tacoma offers Sounds of the Season with assistance from Tacoma Voices and Tacoma Youth Chorus. Tacoma City Ballet graces the stage with the Nutcracker Suite, followed by holiday performances from Tacoma Concert Band and famed a cappella group Take 6. Acerbic comedian Lewis Black returns with "The Joke's on US Tour" Jan. 12, 2019.

Among the redesigned interior's key features is a broad, new, center aisle. "Which is great for ADA access," notes David Fischer, executive director of Tacoma Arts Live, "but it also cuts our emergency-exit time in half. And then we also rebuilt the stairs along the side aisle." Safety upstairs was improved by adding lights and more evenly spaced stairs. Even so, the total seat count increased by about 125, thanks in part to new seats closer to the stage. "From an economic point of view, that's a boost to us, to have now about 1,265 (seats total)," says Fischer. "Overall cost of this phase of the project was about $8.5 million, most of that paid for by City of Tacoma, the state of Washington, private-sector foundations and private donors." Fischer also encourages patrons of the arts to "memorialize anyone: their family, their pet or anything they may like" by purchasing seat-back name tiles.

This phase of renovation follows a $3 million improvement to the backstage facilities, $1 million in repairs to the ceiling, and a $3 million restoration of the building's exterior, "including," added Fischer, "the replacement of 220 wood-sash windows. So we've been chipping away at this for a long time. ... We started with the redo of the lobby in 2005, and we've been workin' on it ever since." Subsequent improvements will focus on office areas in the Jones Building and additional seismic precautions.

"We believe that live events serve as the pulse of our city," Fischer explained in a press release. "A community's identity takes shape in the moments when people connect with each other. ... At our core, we are working hard to create opportunities where our community can emerge from behind electronic screens and come together to share transformative experiences."

SYMPHONIE FANTASTIQUE, 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 17, Tacoma Arts Live, Pantages Theater, 901 Broadway, Tacoma, $24-$83, 253.591.5894

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