WATERVILLE — It was nearly showtime and a crowd of hundreds packed the Opera House lobby, stairwells and corridors waiting for the doors to its newly renovated space to open.

For the past year, the Opera House, on the second floor of City Hall, had been closed for a massive $4.9 million renovation project that included new balcony seating, new flooring, restored woodwork, new technical equipment and much more. Theatergoers were going to have to wait another 10 minutes to see it firsthand.

On the other side of the theater doors, there was a frenzy of last-minute activity — five carpenters cobbled together a set of risers, while volunteers swept away the falling sawdust. On stage right, fully costumed ballet dancers warmed up while a trio warmed up in the orchestra pit. At center stage, a stagehand added new stage lights to the rafters.

Pete Hoffman, a subcontractor on the project, paused backstage to say he helped with a few projects just minutes before the doors opened, including some painting.

“We gotta have a show,” he said.

In an empty room next to the lobby, Diane Bryan, executive director of the Opera House Association, took a moment to reflect on the past and future of the historic site.

“I feel a tremendous responsibility to honor the past and the people who came up with this idea in the first place, and to bring it forward so more generations can grow from it and appreciate it,” she said.

Bryan said the Opera House, which was built in 1902, had been in serious need of repair for decades.

“But we were only able to do Band-Aid therapy for the longest time,” she said.

Then, a local philanthropist, the late Joseph Alfred “Fred” Boucher offered the association money to repair the theater’s aging balcony. Bryan said Boucher’s offer inspired the group to mount a capital campaign to revamp everything.

At 7:10, ten minutes behind schedule, the theater ushers opened the doors to the new space, and more than 700 people filed into their seats.

Boucher’s widow, Kay Boucher, took a seat in a center row. She said her husband, who died in mid-December, would have been proud of the finished space.

“He’d be very, very happy,” she said. “He would have turned 89 today; today was his birthday.”

Mayor Karen Heck took a seat nearby. She said the renovations were fabulous.

“I’m very excited for everybody here, and also for Waterville,” she said. “It’s really a great moment for the town. It’s a huge cultural asset, and I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of great performances here.”

Soon after, the lights went down and Bryan entered the stage in a spotlight. She thanked the construction workers and the hundreds of donors who contributed to the project. She also thanked the community.

“A community that holds a place for the arts … in high esteem is a community that respects its past and has hope for its future,” she said.

With that, the curtains lifted, and singer Lisa Neal strode to center stage and kicked off an evening of entertainment with “Everything is Coming Up Roses.”

Ben McCanna — 861-9239

[email protected]

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