CEDAR RAPIDS — Harry Connick Jr. and his big band, joined by Orchestra Iowa string players, will reopen the Paramount Theatre in downtown Cedar Rapids on Nov. 3. Orchestra Iowa CEO Robert Massey has never seen a concert in the Paramount Theatre. It flooded right when he moved to town. He's about to see a doozey. It's a big-ticket night, with reserved seats priced at $90, $150 and $250. Orchestra Iowa and Broadway Series subscribers can purchase tickets beginning Aug. 6. Any remaining tickets will go on sale to the general public Sept. 10. Organizers say the Grammy-winning musician, Emmy-winning actor and New Orleans flood recovery activist readily accepted the invitation to help reopen the historic 1928 downtown Cedar Rapids venue silenced by the raging Cedar River in June 2008. During more than two years of planning, Connick's name kept popping up at the top of the  list of stars big enough and special enough to headline the gala. A star with instant audience name recognition who could incorporate Orchestra Iowa musicians into the concert, as well, and fit within the event's $350,000 budget. View more - A then and now look at the Paramount Theatre Connick is "an incredible artist," Massey says. "He has more No. 1 jazz albums than anyone. He's a movie star, he's a television star, he's a Broadway star, he's a recording star. For me personally -- and this impacted my decision -- he was instrumental in rebuilding his hometown of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. "As Nov. 3 is really a celebration of coming through tragedy and triumphing over it," Massey says, "it meant a lot to me that this artist personally has a connection to that and understands what  Cedar Rapids has gone through." And he just happened to be free Nov. 3. "I talked to his agent, and the date looked good," Massey says. "That was the other thing. We had the date -- we had to find somebody who could fit that date. The fact that our No. 1 choice was free on Saturday, Nov. 3 -- there's some kind of divine intervention coming through there. "I think it's fabulous. I can't wait," says Tammy Koolbeck, vice president of VenuWorks for Cedar Rapids, which is teaming with Orchestra Iowa to stage the concert under the new Paramount Presents partnership. "I hear just fabulous things about this show," she says. "I've never seen him live, so I'm very excited. It sets the right tone for the opening. It's very exciting to have an artist of that magnitude who really only plays one-offs (one night-gigs). He's not really a touring artist. The fact that he was willing to come in and be our opening gala artist is very special."

The Details

  • Paramount Presents: Harry Connick Jr. reopening gala on 8 p.m. Nov. 3
  • Paramount Theatre, 123 Third Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids
  • Corporate sponsorships start at $2,500; Patron Tickets, $500
  • Tickets: Reserved seats for Orchestra Iowa and Broadway Series subscribers: $250, $150 and $90 on sale Aug. 6; any remaining tickets on sale to general public Sept. 10; at the Orchestra Iowa Ticket Office, 119 Third Ave. SE, (319) 366-8206, 1-(800) 369-8863 or Paramountpresents.com (new website under construction)
  • Nov. 2: Preview tour of the Paramount Theatre and reception for all Gala sponsors and patron contributors, 7 p.m.
  • Nov. 3: Invitation-only Gala Reception for Sponsors and Patrons in the new Encore Lounge, 6 to 7 p.m.; Paramount doors open to public, 7 p.m.; auditorium opens, 7:30 p.m.; welcome presentation, 7:45 p.m.; concert, 8 p.m.

The Paramount Theatre

Connick will share top billing with another shining star -- the reclaimed, refurbished, reanimated Paramount Theatre. "This is going to be a real celebration of the community and a celebration of getting this crown jewel back," Massey says. "The event is still in the planning stages and we have an incredible committee working on that. It is about the Paramount. "It's more than just that evening — it is just a great celebration of coming back. And so, from whatever goes on before the concert to after the concert, we want to showcase the building." This celebration seemed so far away in June 2008, as flood waters knocked down the theater's front doors, filling the basement and coursing at least 8 feet high through the Hall of Mirrors and auditorium. In the months that followed, the damaged areas were stripped and cleaned and the building was put to sleep until the city could wade through the FEMA funding process and determine its fate. By spring 2011, the buzz of reconstruction created a new symphony of sound. During a tour at the end of June, gold leaf was being applied by hand in the ornate entrance hall and scaffolding was ready to come down from the repainted upper reaches of the auditorium. The $35 million restoration is in the home stretch. "We've turned the corner," Koolbeck says. The chandeliers are being refurbished in St. Louis, the mirrors are being re-silvered,  the Mighty Wurlitzer console and inner workings are being completely renovated, new dressing rooms are ready for their the final touches on the second floor, the alley has been enclosed to create more  backstage space and by fall, 1,700 new seats will be installed in the auditorium. Then the grand dame of the Corridor's performance venues will be ready for her opening night close-up. The Mighty Wurlitzer's console is expected to be a special guest, even though it won't be up and running yet. Gala activities begin with an invitation-only reception for patrons and sponsors from 6 to 7 p.m. in the Paramount's new Encore Lounge, where the first-floor rehearsal hall used to be. The building opens to everyone else at 7 p.m., followed by the auditorium doors at 7:30 p.m., a presentation at 7:45 p.m. and the Harry Connick Jr. concert at 8 p.m. "We're excited about just being in the building again," Koolbeck says. VenuWorks has a long history with the theater and manages it for the city. "It's always been a beautiful building and we all have emotional ties to that building. The fact that we're back in and that it's functioning" is exciting for the staff, she says. The calendar is filling up quickly for the Paramount, between the Orchestra's Fine Arts series, with its own concerts, Quad Cities Ballet and Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre productions; VenuWorks' events; and the Paramount Presents collaboration that is bringing back the Broadway at the Paramount series and the gala, among other offerings. The community will continue to use the building, as well, for everything from graduations to the Fab Five show choir extravaganza. The orchestra's popular Follies variety show fundraiser also will be back, April 26 to 28, 2013. The orchestra's ticket office will serve all Paramount events in person, by phone and online, rather than going through Ticketmaster, Massey says, noting the orchestra will add ticket staff to meet this upgraded level 0f service. Koolbeck is excited about exploring new arts offering through the new VenuWorks/Orchestra Iowa pairing. "The beauty of what the Paramount Presents partnership brings with Orchestra Iowa is that it's giving us a segment of programming that we necessarily haven't been able to chase and support because of funding and making sure events could pay rent and there were tickets being sold,, so certainly with the smaller capacity and more patron amenities that are being offered, Paramount Presents is bringing in a nice way to bring a wider diversity of events." It's all generating lots of buzz, especially from an anxious public, he says. "We still have a lot of people who don't quite believe it's coming back this soon, this November, especially when you look at Hancher's not going to open until 2016," he says. "I know from the orchestra subscribers, they're very anxious to get back. And I know from the Broadway subscribers who have not had a series in four seasons, they are so anxious to get back. "And I know from talking to downtown businesses, area restaurants and those that really count on an active nightlife and cultural nightlife, they're certainly are looking forward to it coming back," he says. The reopening is generating industry buzz, too, Koolbeck says. "We're getting a lot of calls, a lot of interest from promoters and agents about another venue opening up in our market,"  she says, "one that was very popular for national artists, especially after the 2003 renovation when we had more backstage space and could do bigger shows and actually had dressing rooms with hot water and showers that worked. "So certainly in the time from that renovation until the flood, there's been a lot of interest in Cedar Rapids being able to be a stop again for a lot of national touring artists."


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