AUGUSTA — The first ticketed public performance in more than five decades at the long-vacant, under-renovation Colonial Theater takes the stage Friday night.

Local native Kent Axell, who works as a magician and mentalist in Las Vegas and elsewhere, will perform his mind-reading act at the theater, which has been set up temporarily with 300 seats for the performance.

For the first time since Dean Martin, Elke Sommer and Sharon Tate appeared in the movie “The Wrecking Crew” on the screen at the Colonial Theater in 1969, admission-paying patrons will take in a performance at the theater at 139 Water St., even while it is in the midst of a major renovation project to bring it back to life.

“It’s the first ticketed performance in 53 years,” Kathi Wall, executive director of the theater, said of Axell’s performance. “It is a milestone. I think it says that, even more so, we’re on our way to becoming a more functioning venue for arts and entertainment for the Augusta area. We can pull this off. And we’ll be one step closer to the capital city having its own arts and culture venue.”

Rayno Boivin, left, and Brian Monk connect sections of seats Thursday at the Colonial Theater at 139 Water St. in downtown Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Axell grew up in Manchester, then studied theater in New York and now performs as a magician and mentalist in shows in Las Vegas and on the road. Axell said he is honored to be part of the revival of the theater by performing in its first ticketed public show since it closed more than a half-century ago.

“I’m so honored and so excited to be a part of this — it’s really amazing,” he said. “I’ve been into the theater. It’s so gorgeous. It’s beautiful. It’s been, over the last years, pretty run down, but it’s really been patched up. You can’t produce ‘Grease’ in there right now, but you can definitely do a mind-reading show.”

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Wall said with the theater in its current state, public safety codes allow it to host up to 300 people for the show. When the theater is fully restored, the plan is to have seating and capacity for 1,000 attendees.

Its temporary seating includes 200 seats donated by Kennebec Valley Community College, which is redoing its auditorium and plans to install new seating. Peachey Builders of Augusta has installed the seats at the historic theater.

Wall said the donated seats are in good condition.

Kennebec Savings Bank has provided another 100 temporary, moveable seats for Friday night’s performance.

Tickets are $25 and selling fast. As of Thursday afternoon, only three tickets remained, according to the website where tickets can be purchased, with the event projected to raise about $7,500 to help fund the ongoing efforts to renovate and expand the theater, which was originally built in 1912 and then replaced with the existing building in 1926.

The Colonial initially showed silent films and had an orchestra pit in front of the stage. At some point, the stage was extended over the orchestra pit, and a sound system capable of playing audio for movies was added shortly after World War I.

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Friday night’s show is to feature Axell’s mind-reading act, although he is open about the fact he is not actually reading minds. He said he orchestrates situations, through the use of principles of deception, to make it look like he can read minds.

“People that come will probably think they’ve seen a psychic — that’s the goal of the show,” Axell said. “They should expect to witness what it’s like to be in a room with a mind reader.”

Axell said he had heard about efforts to restore the Colonial Theater and approached Wall and Michael Hall, a board member of the theater and executive director of the Augusta Downtown Alliance, about doing a ticketed show at the venue to help with the restoration.

“I got thinking about it and thought, ‘Why not?” Wall said of holding a show at the far-from-complete theater. “No, we’re not a finished theater. But could we pull it off, in warmer weather, not in the dead of winter? Yeah. And the response has been wonderful.”

Brian Monk, left, and Rayno Boivin measure and position another row of seats Thursday at the Colonial Theater at 139 Water St. in downtown Augusta. Last month, Kennebec Valley Community College donated 204 seats that were removed from an auditorium being renovated at the Fairfield campus. Those seats are set in front of a temporary stage that will host “Lifting the Curtain featuring Master Mind Reader Kent Axell,” scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday. It will be the first ticketed performance at the theater in 53 years. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The event is to have a cash bar and offer theater candy for purchase. Doors open at 6 p.m., and the show is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.

Fundraising for the overall project, which was previously estimated to cost about $8.5 million, is ongoing. More than $1 million has been raised so far. Plans include adding a new building onto the side of the structure to provide space for bathrooms and improve accessibility.

The project was recently awarded $160,000 in historic preservation funds from the National Park Service to restore the theater’s windows and exterior doors.

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