BALTIMORE, MD (CelebrityAccess News Service) – After decades of uncertainty about the future of the Hippodrome Theatre, organizers are just weeks away from reopening the 1914 vaudeville palace where Frank Sinatra and Benny Goodman played during theatre's glory days. On February 10, the fully restored Hippodrome Theatre will make its debut as the heart of the new France-Merrick Performing Arts Center in Baltimore.
The Center opens with the Mel Brooks' musical, The Producers, the first live performance at the Hippodrome in more than 50 years. From 1952 through the '80s, the Hippodrome operated as a movie theatre until it became the casualty of a deteriorating neighborhood. In 2002, a partnership between the Hippodrome Foundation, Clear Channel Entertainment and the Maryland Stadium Authority allowed construction to begin, connecting the Hippodrome with two other historic buildings to create a 140,000-square-foot entertainment complex.
The France-Merrick Performing Arts Center enables Baltimore to host Broadway's most elaborate touring productions, such as Mamma Mia!, playing this May, and The Lion King, slated for the end of the 2004-2005 season. Equipped with a stage more than 50 feet deep and seven stories high, the theatre has been designed to meet the technical and spatial requirements of large-scale shows, which other venues in the area can't accommodate.
The Center also has been a catalyst for rejuvenating Baltimore's west side, a vibrant business and entertainment district for more than a century before its decline in the 1960s. Just as the National Aquarium and Camden Yards have brought attention to other parts of downtown Baltimore, the Center is expected to attract tens of thousands of patrons to the neighborhood, where the development of upscale retail and residential properties is in progress.
Clear Channel Entertainment, manager of the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, anticipates it will host 275 performances in the 2,286-seat theatre in the first year.
While the Center's technology and amenities are state-of-the-art, the interior of the auditorium – the original Hippodrome Theatre – appears very much as its architect Thomas Lamb intended in 1914. Over the past 18 months, restoration professionals have spent thousands of hours repairing and recreating ornamental plasterwork, gilded moldings and other furnishings. Six opera boxes, removed in the 1960s to make room for a new Cinemascope movie screen, have been recreated, and a water-damaged mural by artist Vincent Maragliotti has been reconstructed. Seats, wall coverings, carpet and lighting have been selected to replicate the originals as closely as possible. –Bob Grossweiner and Jane Cohen