The soothing sounds of stringed instruments, the rhythmic pounding of drums, and exciting music and theatre by famous guest artists will soon burst forth again from the stage of the West Virginia University Creative Arts Center concert theatre.
That’s because the 1,445-seat theatre is about to reopen after a two-year renovation project that college officials say puts it on par with the finest performance halls in the region.
Various artistsfrom students gaining experience before a live audience to internationally acclaimed entertainers brought to Morgantown by the Universitywill perform in the refurbished theatre.
A $2.35 million gift to the WVU Foundation’s Building Greatness Campaign from Charleston philanthropist Lyell B. Clay paid for the renovations to the theatre, which will be rededicated in his name Dec. 11.
Clay, a WVU alumnus and patron of the arts, is a native of Charleston and former publisher of The Charleston Daily Mail. He and the Clay Foundation Inc. have supported various educational and artistic endeavors in the region, including the Clay Center for the Arts&Sciences in Charleston.
At Clay’s request, the Lyell B. Clay Concert Theatre foyers will be named after Phil Faini, dean emeritus of the College of Creative Arts, and Gene Nordan, a composer whose works have been staged at the CAC .
“Lyell Clay’s foresight and generosity have created, for the northern region of our state, the finest theatre between Pittsburgh and Charleston,”said Dean Bernie Schultz.”As part of the Creative Arts Center at WVU , the Lyell B. Clay Concert Theatre is not only a premier performance space, but it also will significantly contribute to the education of future generations of artists, ensuring that the arts will remain a living experience for all of us.”
The Dec. 11 program will include Broadway songs by tenor J. Mark McVey, a Huntington native who has performed as Jean Valjean in”Les Miserables”for the past seven years and won the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Actor for that role. He has also appeared on Broadway and in New York in”Tommy,”“The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public,”“Hey Love”and other shows. He has toured in”Carousel,”“My Fair Lady,”“South Pacific,”“Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”and”Showboat.”
In addition, Faini will return to the CAC stage to conduct the WVU Percussion Ensemble in”West Side Story,”and the WVU Division of Theatre and Dance will also present a performance excerpt from the musical.
There will also be a collaborative visual and musical presentation of Renaissance and Modern Italian Madrigals on the subject of love by The University Choir, conducted by Kathleen Shannon and Roger tabler, along with graphic designs by the WVU Graphic Design program coordinated by Cliff Harvey and Eve Faulkes. The WVU Division of Art faculty will exhibit their works in the main lobby, and the program’s finale will be a rendition of Marvin Hamlisch’s”One Song”by McVey and The University Choir.
The concert theatre is the premiere performance space at WVU and was central to the CAC when the building was completed in 1968. From the beginning, it was a space suitable for multipurpose use, its versatility attributed largely to its excellent acoustics.
In addition to the college’s music and theatre groups, West Virginia Public Theater, the University’s Visiting Artist Series, Festival of Ideas speakers, and Arts&Entertainment Series all use the theatre for performances and events. Some of the performers and lecturers who have graced the stage of the concert theatre during the past 35 years include Aaron Copland, the Dizzy Gillespie Quartet, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Oxford-Cambridge Shakespeare Players, Count Basie Orchestra, David Selby, Kathy Mattea, Ray Charles, Martha Graham Dance Company, Gladys Knight, Joan Baez, Art Garfunkel, B.B. King, The Four Tops, The Temptations, Winton Marsales, Spike Lee and the Presidential Orchestra of Russia.
The renovations to the theatre include installation of new rigging capable of supporting heavy backdrops, a refurbished orchestra shell and a computerized light board. The color palette was changed from red and walnut to subtle shades of blue and gold, with a gold curtain. The seating area now sports new blue carpeting and a fresh new coat of paint on the mesh wall and ceiling. The two foyers feature blue carpeting, gold walls, wheelchair ramps that lead directly to seating for the disabled, and new fire exits.
In addition to state-of-the-art facilities for education programs, the college will now be able to do productions far more complex than it could do before.
The concert theatre upgrade is part of an $11 million project that also included renovations to the main lobby, Bloch Learning and Performance Hall, Gladys G. Davis Theatre and Vivian Davis Michael Theatre; installation of a new fire alarm and sprinkler system; and other safety improvements. Support from private sources and the University paid for the other renovations.
Tickets for the Lyell B. Clay Concert Theatre Dedication Concert are $12 for the general public and $6 for WVU students. Tickets and information are available through the Mountainlair Box Office or by calling (304) 293-SHOW.