Theater lovers on the West Bank and beyond will soon have reason to celebrate, as the newly renovated Westwego Performing Arts Theatre prepares for its long-awaited reopening in time for the 2017-18 season.
The theater, which began operating in 2004 as part of the Jefferson Performing Arts Society, has been closed since summer 2012, after sustaining significant damage during Hurricane Isaac.
“The roof area above the stage had a hole the size of a pickup truck in it,” said Dennis Assaf, executive director at Jefferson Performing Arts Society. “The place just filled up with water. It was a real mess.”
While the building had previously suffered some exterior damage during Hurricane Katrina (“the facade of the walls were peeled back like you’d peel a banana,” Assaf recalled), the interior damage caused by water and wind in 2012 was more severe, and the negotiations with insurance companies and the Federal Emergency Management Agency were more complicated.
“Everything was gutted,” Assaf said. “Mold became a serious problem, and the cost escalated like crazy. We had to bring in mold remediation companies, guys walking around in hazmat suits, to get all the mold out of there.”
Almost five years and $1.3 million later, Assaf called the 255-seat theater “a brand new theater.”
In addition to new seats and flooring, the renovation included replacing lighting and sound equipment, which provided an opportunity for some overdue technical upgrades.
Once the finishing touches are complete, the Westwego Performing Arts Theatre is expected to open in mid-September with the show “So Happy Together,” a musical revue from vocal quartet The Big Easy Boys that spotlights hit songs from the 1950s and '60s.
In the meantime, the society will continue to maintain a presence in Westwego with Teatro Wego!, the smaller performance space located next door to Westwego theater. With the two facilities up and running, the organization hopes to expand its influence in the area by strategically utilizing both spaces.
“We did some ambitious productions in that little Teatro Wego! space, but now that (Westwego Performing Arts Theatre) is back online, we’ll put the bigger shows there and the more intimate cabaret kind of stuff back into Teatro Wego!” Assaf said.
In addition to the added entertainment offerings, the arts society also hopes to revitalize the youth programming that was a thriving part of of the Westwego theater before the forced closure.
Assaf said that there will be some challenges involved in reopening the theater. One obstacle he acknowledged is the location, which can be off-putting for audiences in other parts of the city who might consider Westwego unfamiliar territory.
East Bankers might not realize how easy the trip really is, Assaf said.
“The theater is located 1.4 miles from the bottom of the Huey P. Long Bridge," he said. "With the new bridge, getting over there is a snap. It’s just changing people’s perceptions.”
While some work remains to be done, Assaf is committed to the long-term viability of the theater, and he believes the theater’s past success is a good indicator of what lies ahead.
“We were really building a good, loyal audience, and now we’re having to start basically from scratch,” Assaf said. “It’s going to require more investment and marketing to get the word out, but we’re very confident that once we get this thing cranked up again it’s going to be smooth sailing.”
For additional information, including tickets, visit jpas.org or call (504) 885-2000
177 Sala Ave., Westwego
"Wine Lovers: The Musical"
Written by Michael Green, Gourmet Magazine’s wine and spirits consultant, this musical about a young couple at a wine tasting class lets audiences get in on the action as they sip along with the characters.
"The Songs of Blueberry Hill…In Concert!"
Butch Caire performs classic New Orleans R&B hits, telling the stories behind the songs and the performers who introduced them to the world.
WESTWEGO PERFORMING ARTS THEATRE
"So Happy Together: 'The Greatest Hits' of The Big Easy Boys"
Sept. 15-Oct. 1
The Big Easy Boys bring their signature sound to Westwego Performing Arts Theatre with a musical revue that celebrates the vocal quartet’s favorite songs from the 1950s and '60s.
"Caroline, or Change"
Oct. 27-Nov. 5
The 2004 Broadway musical (written by Tony Kushner, music by Jeanine Tesori) set in Civil Rights-era Louisiana explores the relationship between an African-American maid and the family she serves. “Caroline, or Change” is produced in collaboration with the Loyola University Department of Theatre Arts.
"Butch Caire’s Holly Jolly Family Friendly Vintage TV Christmas Special"
In a holiday-themed variety show, Butch Caire and friends pay tribute to the family-style entertainment of the 1960s that featured stars like Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. The show recreates classic TV moments and also includes original skits and songs. Becky Allen guest stars.
"The Marvelous Wonderettes"
An off-Broadway hit, the musical comedy “The Marvelous Wonderettes” showcases hit songs from the '50s and '60s, as an all-girl singing group performs at its high school prom in 1958, then gets back together again for its 10-year reunion.