WATERVILLE — The Waterville Opera House will re-open Friday night with music, song, dance and film after being closed a year for a $4.9 million renovation and addition project.

The 7:30 p.m. reopening will feature live selections from musicals such as “Chicago,” and “Gypsy,” Bossov Ballet dancers performing circus-style choreography and film clips from the Maine International Film Festival.

“When people walk in and see the lobby, they’re going to be blown away,” said Diane Bryan, Opera House executive director. “It’s absolutely beautiful.”

In addition to a new and expanded lobby and concession area, the 810-seat Opera House, on the second floor of City Hall, has new rest rooms, dressing rooms, balcony seating and handicapped accessibility to the stage. It also has new floors, restored woodwork, a fresh coat of paint and new technical equipment.

Work continues by contractor Sheridan Corp. on an addition to the north side of City Hall that houses a set construction building and freight elevator. Bryan said Saturday the project will be completed by June 10.

Mayor Karen Heck applauded the project, saying she plans to attend Friday’s grand reopening.

“I’m thrilled about it,” she said. “The Opera House is a huge asset. Joan Baez (who has performed there) called it an amazing gem and she is right. It’s a centerpiece for the cultural opportunities in town and we’re really looking forward to being there.”

Gerry Wright and other musicians will accompany performances Friday night. They include dances choreographed by Andre Bossov and performed to the music of Dmitri Shostokovich. The Opera House’s new projection equipment will showcase the film festival clips.

Bryan said expects the Opera House to offer tours of the new construction in late May or early June — closer to the completion date.

“I think what people will see will make them very happy,” she said. “Especially people who have lived here a long time.”

Some Opera House events were held over the last year at places such as Colby College. Downtown businesses felt the sting of decreased business during the construction, as many people who patronize the Opera House shop and eat downtown.

Bryan said those businesses, as well as Opera House officials, the public and performers are happy to be returning.

“I will be very glad we can go back to doing the thing we love to do,” she said. “This past year of construction has been challenging on so many levels.”

Opera House officials faced a setback this spring after realizing there was going to be a cash flow problem and cost overrun of about $600,000 for the project.

Because pledges were coming in more slowly than bills could be paid, officials were forced to ask the city to guarantee a $1.25 million loan to pay Sheridan Corp. and cover the cost of overruns. The building is owned by the city, and the Opera House is a non-profit corporation that maintains the theater.

City councilors on Tuesday took the first of three votes to approve guaranteeing the loan, which a special committee volunteering to assess the financial situation said was the only solution to the problem.

James LaLiberty, an attorney volunteering to review the situation, appealed to councilors before they voted Tuesday to support the loan. He said his committee pulled together early in February, identified the problem in mid-February and reviewed a number of solutions. In early March they appealed to a major benefactor for additional help and will learn in August if that request is approved, he said.

Meanwhile, in March, officials approached the city about the loan guarantee, he said.

“This has all happened in a very, very short time period,” he said, adding that the problem may have started as early as January — or even earlier — but its scope was not discovered until the volunteer committee met. The city owns City Hall, which houses the Opera House on its second floor.

Project funding includes a $2 million donation from the Alfond Foundation, which was matched by $2 million in fundraising and another $300,000 from the foundation for the set construction area. Opera House seats also are being sold for $1,000, $500 and $250 in exchange for a nameplate on those seats.

Bryan said about 300 seats have been sold and fundraising continues. A reception for those who have purchased seats will be held after Friday’s show, around 9:30 p.m. Bryan said. A reception for major donors to the project is being held at 6 p.m., prior to the show.

Bryan said Sheridan has worked day and night — and weekends — to get the Opera House ready for Friday’s reopening.

“They know how important it is to us,” she said. “This isn’t just a job, because they live here, too. This is important to them.”

As part of the ongoing reopening celebration, Maine comedian Bob Marley will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Opera House. Tickets are $25 a person.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]


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