MILWAUKEE — The Marcus Performing Arts Center will bring live audiences back to its largest venue, Uihlein Hall, for the first time next week.
Those patrons will be the first to experience a show in the 52-year-old theater that feels brand new inside following a $4 million renovation, made possible in part due to the COVID-19 shutdown.
“Definitely lemonade we made out of the COVID lemons,” is how the Marcus Center’s President and CEO described it. Kendra Whitlock Ingram admitted the plans for renovated the Hall were years away, but with the space gone dark, donors stepped up and took advantage of the time.
“If we didn’t do this now, it wouldn’t have been something that we could do two years from now because we’re going to need the venue online,” Whitlock Ingram explained. “We’re not going to be able to take the venue offline as we recover from the financial impact this has had of us being closed for 13 months.”
The most obvious, and notable change is the addition of aisles in the orchestra section. The lower orchestra now divided in three, with two aisles up the middle. The rear orchestra features a center aisle. It cost the venue about 200 seats, but the capacity is still around 2,100.
“So, we did lose seats with the renovation, but the upgrade we got, particularly with having so many more aisle seats, which patrons often find to be very desirable, was worth the trade-off,” Whitlock Ingram said.
New flooring, new carpet, new seats, more accessible seating, and new paint top the list of improvements. Patrons will notice multiple shades on the red upholstery. Whitlock Ingram said it wasn’t a discount sale. It was deliberate. “This is a trend that's happening in new seating for theaters. When the artist looks out from the stage, it gives the impression that even if the seats aren't completely filled, of a more full house. So it's an interesting illusion that it creates for the artist.”
If the Marcus Center is to come back strong from what Whitlock Ingram calls a financially “catastrophic year,” it will need more than the illusion of full capacity. Hamilton is set to kick off the Broadway series in October, and those have to be big audiences.
“There's a direct correlation between people getting vaccinated and us being able to bring together large assemblies for shows like Hamilton. As show like Hamilton, we have to have a high capacity. We have to have 80, 90, 100 percent capacity to make the financials work for that. In order to do that, the public has to help us by getting vaccinated so that we can have people, shoulder to shoulder.”
The Florentine Opera will have the first show back inside Uihlein Hall on May 7. The show will be at 25 percent capacity or about 500 tickets. For information on that and other upcoming shows at the Marcus Performing Arts Center, click here.