Ren?e C. Byer rbyer@sacbee.com
Ren?e C. Byer rbyer@sacbee.com

Arts & Theater

Sacramento’s Community Center Theater boasts plenty to enjoy

By Hannah Knowles

hknowles@sacbee.com

September 05, 2017 06:00 AM

UPDATED September 05, 2017 09:00 AM

Sacramento’s Community Center Theater may draw criticism for its aging building’s shortcomings, but the downtown venue still boasts plenty to enjoy as a cultural hub for the city.

“The most important thing that the theater does is it provides a home to five of the city’s major arts organizations,” said Dustin Hollingsworth, theater and auditorium manager for the Sacramento Convention Center Complex that houses the Community Center Theater.

The venue, which opened in 1974, hosts Sacramento’s ballet, choral, and philharmonic and opera groups, as well as the Sacramento Speaker Series and California Musical Theater’s Broadway Sacramento program. According to Hollingsworth, the theater held 130 performances during its last full fiscal year.

Plans to renovate the theater for more than $80 million won’t affect the theater’s upcoming season; the venue will remain open until spring 2019, when shows will move to nearby Memorial Auditorium to make way for construction.

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Some critics advocated scrapping the venue entirely. Patrons and performing groups had long complained of a cramped lobby, outdated technology, the lack of disability access and the lack of women’s restrooms. The renovation aims to fix those issues and give the theater a new glass facade.

Groups that use the venue said they are thrilled to finally see their venue upgraded.

“I’ve been working on this since the turn of the century,” California Musical Theater president Richard Lewis said.

Five things to know

Sacramento is exploring private management – The city is in talks with the Sacramento Kings, concert company Live Nation and convention center operator SMG to allow the groups to take over the Convention Center Complex’s management. Currently, the Convention Center, Memorial Auditorium and the Community Center Theater are run by the city’s Department of Convention and Cultural Services. Sacramento officials hope private oversight could boost the number of shows and the audiences they draw.

Funky architecture is part of a fad from the mid-20th century – The Community Center Theater’s boxy exterior was built in the plain, concrete-heavy style of “Brutalism,” which derives its name from the French phrase for “raw concrete,” “beton brut.” Brutalist architecture has fallen largely out of favor since its heyday in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. “It’s like we need to play some Wagner to match the outside,” said Raymond James Irwin, marketing and communications coordinator for the Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera. “We’re excited to see it brighten up and open up and match the community around us – have a more playful feel.”

It’s hosted lots of famous figures – Some of the prominent people who have appeared at the theater range from former President Bill Clinton to primatologist Jane Goodall to cellist Yo-Yo Ma. The beginning of the series’ 2017-18 season this fall will feature comedian George Takei on Oct. 4 and Doris Kearns Goodwin, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of several biographies, on Nov. 15.

There are restaurants galore nearby – Options less than a quarter mile away from the theater run the gamut from burgers and American cuisine to Asian fusion and Italian. “The businesses, restaurants really, that have grown up around the theater since it opened (are) wonderful,” Lewis said.

It has a special salute to donors – That big brown book inside a display case inside the theater? It’s a “roll of honor” for donors to Sacramento’s symphony, the predecessor to the city’s Philharmonic and Opera. According to Hollingsworth, the book notes everyone who contributed $1 or more to “enable Sacramento to expand and develop a metropolitan orchestra city” as part of a fundraising push to match a $500,000 grant by June 30, 1971.

Hannah Knowles: 916-321-1141, @KnowlesHannah

COMMUNITY CENTER THEATER AT A GLANCE

THREE CAN’T-MISS EVENTS

  • Music of Prince, Nov. 25, 8 p.m.: On Thanksgiving weekend, the Philharmonic and Opera will join forces with a full rock band for an evening of the late pop star’s greatest hits.
  • Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Nov. 1-5, 7-12, varying times: Presented by California Musical Theater’s Broadway Sacramento, the Tony- and Grammy-award-winning Broadway production about how singer Carole King became famous gets a two-week run reserved for CMT’s most popular shows.
  • Trevor Noah, Nov. 21, 7:30 p.m.: The host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” recently published his autobiography, “Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood.”