MILLVILLE — Curtains go up this Sunday for the first performance at the Levoy Theatre since 1974.
“The hardest part is convincing people we’ll open,” said Phil Van Embden, a member of the Levoy Theatre Preservation Society’s board of directors.
Opening performances were twice delayed so a small army of electricians, carpenters, painters and other tradesmen could complete the voluminous amount of work needed for the theater to open. There was still some work to be done as of Friday, but nothing to the extent that challenged theater operators during the past few weeks.
With the bulk of the $8.5 million renovation project complete, workers are laying the last lengths of burgundy and gold carpet down the aisles. Light bulbs are being installed around the mirrors in the dressing rooms. Handrails on the grand staircase that dominates the lobby are being painted. Stage lights are being focused. The first posters advertising future shows were placed in their glass cases that front High Street.
Work will be done by 5 p.m. Sunday, when the theater opens with a show that harkens to more than a century ago: The Peacherine Ragtime Orchestra will play music to accompany silent films starring Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. The Levoy presented silent films when it opened on in January 1908.
The theater has other links to the past: Second-floor lobby photos of the city start in the late 19th century. There are pictures of trolleys running on High Street, police in what today look like Keystone Cop uniforms, a Millville High School football team from 1908, the first Wheaton glass factory and, of course, the theater at different times in its history.
But despite those links — and an interior design meant to make the 700-seat Levoy look like theaters from golden age of movie houses — Van Embden said the facility is state-of-the art. Behind the walls are miles of cables and wires that will allow the theater to operate on 21st century technology, he said.
The Levoy was scheduled to open Aug. 3. That opening was pushed back a week because the June 30 storm brought some of the work to a halt. The planned Aug. 10 opening was pushed back to this Sunday to make sure all the work that was needed to be done could be finished.
VanEmbden said this Sunday’s show will amount to a soft opening. The theater’s technical staff, along with volunteers and members of the preservation society, will be there for an on-the-job learning experience, he said.
A black-tie-optional grand opening celebration is planned for Sept. 22. The event is billed as “an evening of song, dance and cinema presented by local artists for the entire community to enjoy in support of the Levoy Theatre.” Tickets cost $75.
VanEmbden stresses that the Levoy is supposed to be a community facility, open for wide variety of events. City officials said they hope it will bring customers back to the downtown business district on High Streets, and help a local arts district struggling because of the economic downturn.
“That’s how it is supposed to work,” VanEmbden said.
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