SANDY — Hale Centre Theatre inaugurated its new home at the Mountain America Performing Arts Centre on Thursday with a grand opening gala and performance of Elton John's and Tim Rice's "Aida."
"I refer to this as Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride these whole last 2 1/2 years, especially — it’s been very intense," said Mark Dietlein, Hale's president and CEO. "The highs and the lows to get it to this point of completion and to have all of these incredible friends and people here. This is a moment that we will always treasure."
The event celebrated the conclusion of two years of construction on the venue, located at 9900 S. Monroe St., which carried a price tag of more than $100 million — $80 million of which was allocated to the theater itself, and $20 million of which was allocated to create the stage for its theater-in-the-round Centre Stage Theatre.
Among those in attendance at the gala were Gov. Gary Herbert, Attorney General Sean Reyes, Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan, Hale Centre Theatre board members and donors, as well as representatives from Tait Towers and theater licensing companies Disney Theatrical Productions and Music Theatre International.
"This is going to become a hub for the performing arts," Herbert said. "This is as nice as you've seen anywhere in the country, so this is kind of Utah coming of age. When it comes to the performing arts, we are excelling, and the evidence is this new theater."
The grand opening included the unveiling of a 17-foot-tall bronze jester sculpture by artist Scott Olson in the plaza built by the city of Sandy, tours of the facilities, and a tribute to Ruth and Nathan Hale, who founded HCT in 1985 with their daughter Sally Hale Rice and grandson Mark Dietlein and his wife, Sally Dietlein.
"My Grandma and Grandpa Hale … they knew how to make a dollar stretch," Mark Dietlein said. "For them to see this building and this structure … Grandma Hale would be saying something like, 'Oh my gosh, is this even possible?' And Grandpa Hale would probably have said, 'What did you spend that kind of money for?' Because he was very, very frugal. … I have a feeling they are peeking in tonight. I think they're thrilled."
The 122,300-square-foot performing arts center includes a 467-seat, 11-row proscenium thrust stage, named the Jewel Box Theatre — which opened in September with a production of "Forever Plaid" — and a 900-seat, 10 row theater-in-the-round Centre Stage Theatre.
"It's a great feeling knowing that we're not going to be going dark anymore, that when people call and want to see a show, other than Sunday nights, there will be something playing," Sally Dietlein, vice president and executive producer, said.
Tait Towers, a company with a portfolio that includes work on the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremonies and stage design for The House of Dancing Water in Macau, designed the stage and lift systems for the Centre Stage Theatre. It uses more than 130 motors to move the center column lift, four quad lifts, two large crescent lifts and two slip stages, as well as the two crane trolleys overhead that can move up to 16 performance pieces, according to information from the theater.
Mark Dietlein said representatives from Tait Towers have praised Hale's Centre Stage Theatre.
"What they said about this particular stage is that there is no live performing arts venture anywhere in world with as much cutting-edge stage technology," he said.
In addition to the two theaters, the facility also features large backstage areas to hold set pieces, multiple dressing rooms, staff offices, a stately lobby with six sparkling crystal chandeliers, a 40-foot-long concession stand, event rooms, and a 1,700-stall parking structure built by Mountain America Credit Union for its corporate offices, which will be available to theater patrons later this year.
"We hope that (patrons) feel cared for," Sally Dietlein said. "Hopefully we make them feel like they’re special, that they're important ... and (that they can) have an evening that helps them forget about all their cares, ... makes them laugh and feel joy... We hope that will happen, and we think this facility will do it in a glorious way."
Hale Centre Theatre's first public performance of "Aida" in the Centre Stage Theatre is slated for Friday, and the production runs through Jan. 20. It will play simultaneously with the theater's 33rd annual production of "A Christmas Carol," which will run Dec. 1-23 in the Jewel Box Theatre.