Spotlights and glamour converged when one of Santa Barbara’s artistic treasures hosted “Celebrating Our Brilliant Stars,” an exclusive event for the fifth year of The Granada Theatre’s multimillion-dollar restoration that reopened in 2008 as a state-of-the-art building.
Originally opened in 1924, the Granada will also celebrate a 90th anniversary in 2014, with more than 100,000 people attending performances in 2012.
“What a great milestone. It took such a long time and a lot of community support to make the Granada what it is, and now we’ve had five years of just incredible performances,” Mayor Helene Schneider told Noozhawk. “People come here still in awe when they walk into the theater and into the lobby, so it’s a good night to celebrate.”
Elegantly dressed guests in black tie and spectacular gowns gathered for one surprise after another, transforming the already beautiful theater into a magical evening.
Passionate supporters, donors, founding and current board members along with community leaders were eager to soak in the majesty of years of effort to honor the theater and the talented lineup of stars who have performed onstage.
The evening offered special performances from many of the theater’s eight resident companies, including CAMA, the Music Academy of the West, Opera Santa Barbara, the Santa Barbara Symphony, the Santa Barbara Choral Society, the State Street Ballet Theater League and UCSB Arts & Lectures.
Over the past few years, the community has enjoyed internationally famous soloists, orchestras, operas, dance, esteemed guest speakers and more.
“This place is a treasure, and the fact that we saved it and it’s here for these great venues from rock ‘n; roll to classical is just a wonderful thing,” Santa Barbara Foundation Executive Director Ron Gallo said.
A spirited welcome reception held in the lower lobby featured hors d’oeuvres catered by Duo, including cheese and crackers, French onion soup, cioppino bites and yuzu and Thai chili marinated albacore tuna with cocktails, wine and champagne.
Honorary committee co-chair Sarah Chrisman greeted guests, and Sio Tepper filled the space with ragtime piano that was followed by Broadway songs “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Younger Than Springtime,” and the “Hallelujah Chorus” by the Santa Barbara Choral Society. Rachel Bergsetern Strange also performed as the Snow Fairy Ballerina, and this spectacular mix was just the tipping point of a night full of intimate performances.
The abundance of cheer and excitement continued to build as the evening’s emcee, former mayor and founding board member Hal Conklin, invited guests to the balcony to watch a performance by the State Street Ballet Young Dancers, titled “Not a Destination” with choreography by Kassandra Taylor Newberry and music by Liz Knowles.
While still enjoying the view from above, the theater announced an exciting new addition to the world-class facility with a film made by Bob Glusic, Celebrating Our Brilliant Stars, to introduce a new digital cinema system showcasing the type of film events that the Granada will now be able to present.
The cinema system is the first of its kind between Los Angeles and San Francisco for historical, documentary and independent films, high-definition presentations by great opera companies of the world, gala premiere screenings of major studio commercial films, and entry as a venue for the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. The new rear-projection technology is commonly used in major studio screening rooms for crystalline images on a 36-foot-wide screen.
Following this bird’s-eye view from the balcony, guests headed down to the McCune Founders Room for a cocktail reception, showcasing “Upstairs at the G” featuring jazz vocalist Holly Palmer and Peter Smith on piano.
Dinner was served on the stage under a romantic blue hue of chandeliers amid table centerpieces with white lilies accompanied by a delectable three-course meal of frisee and fennel salad, roasted California halibut or spring lamb, or Roots Farms spaghetti squash medallions.
While enjoying dinner, a curtain that had separated the main stage from the auditorium lifted to reveal the Santa Barbara Symphony, who were joined by members of Opera Santa Barbara to provide the topper on a night of surprises performing Wolfgang Mozart, Vincenzo Bellini, Johannes Brahms and Gaetano Donizetti with guest conductor Francesco Milioto, tenor Javier Abreu and soprano Micaela Oeste.
As guests satisfied their sweet tooth with sea salt caramel chocolate tart or soft whipped vanilla bean cream and seasonal berry salad, honorary committee co-chair Michael Towbes closed the evening with an apt description of a night of delights.
“I think it’s a wonderful milestone in the grand and glorious history of the Granada,” Towbes said. “We built this to last for 100 years,and we’ve got 95 more to go, but we’re off to a great start.”
The magic will continue with brilliant stars at upcoming events, including Opera Santa Barbara’s Don Pasquale on April 26 and 28, the Granada Theatre Concert Series with Bernadette Peters on May 4, “Upstairs at the G” with contemporary jazz on June 6, and the Music Academy of the West will present the Academy Festival Orchestra with conductor Leonard Slatkin on July 13.
“It’s one thing to have an amazing orchestra, but they’re only appreciated if they can have a wonderful venue like the Granada where sonically all the magic that they bring to the stage can be heard,” said David Grossman, executive director of the Santa Barbara Symphony. “And so we are very fortunate in a town like Santa Barbara to have a pristine venue like the Granada that allows these extraordinary musicians to be heard the way they are.”
The theater’s mission is to serve the community as a vibrant, welcoming venue promoting appreciation for excellence in the performing arts and enhancing the quality of life in the community.
The Music Academy of the West uses the Granada during its summer school and festival June 17 through Aug. 10 to do “four full orchestra concerts here with world-class conductors, we do a fully staged opera which is conducted by Warren Jones this summer doing the Magic Flute and under the overall direction of the great opera legend Marilyn Horne, the director of our voice program,” said Scott Reed, president of the Music Academy of the West. “So the Granada plays a very important role in the Music Academy being successful.”
“Celebrating Our Brilliant Stars” was not only a spectacular evening to recognize the accomplishments of the five-year restoration but also served as the official launch announcement for The Jurkowitz Center for Community Engagement at the Granada, which provides family-oriented performances and underwriting of facility fees for education programming by the Santa Barbara Symphony, the Music Academy of the West and San Marcos High School. Jurkowitz previously owned the theater for many years and was instrumental in establishing the nearby Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts.
The theater does not receive ongoing support from local or state government and covers only half of its annual budget through ticket sales and other earned income. Giving opportunities for this awe-inspiring facility includes the Visionarios, Luminarios and Alhambra society, as well as Patron and Ovation Circles.