The LDS Church's new 900-seat Conference Center Theater made its public debut last week with "Savior of the World."

Both the theater and the production — already sold out for the Christmas season and scheduled to be repeated next spring for three weeks around Easter — are fine additions to the local entertainment scene.

Essentially, the theater replaces the long-vacant Promised Valley Playhouse, a State Street landmark due for a massive overhaul (the front part of the historic building will be renovated into retail and office space; the auditorium itself will be razed for a multilevel parking structure).

The Conference Center Theater, situated directly west of the 21,000-seat Conference Center, maintains the same intimacy of the old Playhouse, but the newer facility features much better seating and state-of-the-art technical aspects.

The theater's formal grand opening last Tuesday gave me an opportunity to check things out from a patron's viewpoint. My wife, who is partially disabled due to a work accident several months ago, uses a wheelchair part of the time. With the theater's huge lobby and cavernous parking terrace, this was definitely one of those occasions.

Handicapped parking in the underground parking ramp is conveniently located adjacent to an elevator, which took us up to the main lobby. There are handi-capped-accessible doors for both lobby areas.

Seating on the orchestra level of the theater is steeply raked, almost "stadium" style, providing excellent sightlines. Handicapped seating, with ample space for wheelchairs, is located on the back row, a direct shot from the lobby.

The entire show runs a family friendly 95 minutes.

There were a couple of minor glitches on opening night (that's what opening nights are for, I've learned). The sound system wasn't working during the first scene, and the actors were barely audible. Technicians were scrambling (the sound console was just across the aisle from where I sat) and got things working before the second scene began.

"Savior of the World" is a reverential production based closely on scriptural accounts of Christ's birth and Resurrection. The first act, which lasts about an hour, focuses on events surrounding his birth. After a very brief stand-and-stretch intermission, the second act (which runs less than 30 minutes) picks up the story 33 years later, immediately after the Crucifixion.

The scenes in this sequence shift quickly (and smoothly) between John's home and the sepulchre. (The entire production is set against a simple backdrop of seven connected stone arches. Drapes behind various arches depict various settings.)

In the second act, the Garden Tomb was first shown with a large stone in front of the entry into the sepulchre, and the stone is later rolled to one side. In scenes depicting John's home, a large tapestry is dropped down to cover the tomb's doorway — and the stone should be out of sight.

In one scene, though, in John's home, the tapestry was in place — and the stone was still there, off to the side. Maybe John rolled the stone home for a souvenir. (Actually, the director, David Warner, said additional draping is needed to conceal the stone.)

But these are the kinds of things that happen all too often on opening nights, and not just when a new theater is having its maiden voyage.

Warner said the church is planning to use the smaller theater for special events, including at least two or three major productions each year.

Ward and stake productions, which frequently were staged in the old Playhouse, will likely be moved to the Bountiful-Woods Cross Regional Center, which seats nearly 2,000.


E-mail: ivan@desnews.com