There are any number of ways to fully comprehend how a theater can take root in a community’s soul.
One way is to grow up around it, as so many famous actors have. Another is to simply fall in love with theaters – a phenomenon never captured better than in the Italian movie Cinema Paradiso.
Still another is to be a longtime Augustan – or to immerse oneself in the city’s startlingly rich theater history.
In the early 20th century, downtown Augusta absolutely shined with the glitz and glamour of half a dozen thriving theaters, in what was one of the Southeast’s most beloved and fashionable theater districts.
“The streets were lined shoulder-to-shoulder with tourists, shoppers and locals looking for movies or concerts to attend,” says present-day area theater lover and promoter Michael Deas. “Entertainment could be found starting around 11 a.m. for movies, and concluding around midnight for concerts, at all of the downtown venues any day of the week.”
That theater district makes an encore tonight when the once-and-again elegant Miller Theater makes history with a grand reopening after decades of silence and solitude.
After closing its initial 44-year run in 1984 – and being protected from the elements since 2005 by local philanthropist Peter Knox IV, who then donated it to Symphony Orchestra Augusta – the Miller’s lights go up again to a sold-out black-tie gala tonight featuring Tony award winner, television star and Statesboro native Sutton Foster.
For those not able to attend tonight, the Miller will open its doors for self-guided tours from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, with experts on hand to answer questions. There’s no charge, but you need to preregister at millertheateraugusta.com (or call the box office, 800 514-3849).
What a glorious, historic moment in this grand old city’s storied history.
This is no overnight success, by any means. It took great vision to see life in the old girl. And it took the consummate faith and confident financing of Mr. Knox and Symphony Orchestra Augusta – as well as the city and the foundations, companies and individuals who contributed to the $23 million restoration.
Tonight comes the payoff – and every day and night going forward in which the new Miller Theater attracts regional and national shows, events and entertainers to the budding new theater district that exists between the Miller and the similarly restored Imperial Theatre across the street.
The program is already filling out.
Of course, the main event will be Symphony Orchestra Augusta’s own popular concert series. Then there are local events such as the third annual “Fake It to Make It” lip synch contest (Jan. 26) to benefit SafeHomes Domestic Violence Center, and the thought-provoking, mind-expanding TEDx Augusta day of cutting edge presentations from area leaders in contemplating everything under the sun (Feb. 3).
Other acts are lining up to liven up the Miller – including such big names as jazz pianist and contralto singer Diana Krall (Feb. 16); country music legend Ronnie Milsap (Feb. 17); and folk-rock icon Gordon Lightfoot (Feb. 25).
Hope you didn’t have any other plans this month or next!
This is what a stately, august theater does for a community.
And this is how it gets into one’s soul.
Welcome back, Miller Theater. It’s great to have you back in the limelight.