When the Joy Theater opened in 1947, it joined a virtual galaxy of downtown entertainment places that included the Loew’s State Palace, the Saenger, the Orpheum and the Civic theaters.

Distinguished from its baroque neighbors by its sleek mid-century modern styling, the Joy showed first-run movies (eventually on three screens) and featured a soundproof glass “crying room,” where parents could take crying children to avoid disturbing other moviegoers.

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The theater is part of the CBD's entertainment district.

Fast forward to 2019. The Joy’s bold marquee again dominates the corner of Canal and Loyola. The downtown theater and entertainment district is thriving. But instead of movies such as Lucille Ball’s “Lover Come Back” (the first run in ‘47) or Nick Cannon’s “Drumline” (the last in 2003), the new Joy plays host to comedy acts, corporate events, private parties, business seminars and live music.

And thanks to recent enhancements, general manager Andrew Portwood said the music has never sounded better.

“When NOLA Theatre District (consisting of Joe Jaeger, Neil Hixon, Allan McDonnell and Todd Trosclair) bought the Joy in 2011, it had been closed for eight years,” Portwood said. “It was a feat getting it open again. This is like the second phase of that — now the Joy is a first-class venue with three new bars, new wall treatments, excellent lighting and a d&b audiotechnik sound system.”

Portwood knows what makes an appealing performance venue. He said he’s traveled to New York, Chicago and Miami to investigate similar venues and borrow ideas for the Joy.

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A DJ plays music at an open house for the  renovated Joy Theater in downtown New Orleans on Tuesday, April 4, 2019.

He’s convinced the superior sound system, revamped green room (for performers), and glamorous new lighting make the Joy a contender as one of the nation’s premier venues.

Groups lined up for the “Fest after Dark,” a 10-day series of concerts that coincide with Jazz Fest, will be the first to draw crowds to the recently enhanced Joy.

The After Dark concerts begin with the Phil Lesh and The Terrapin Family Band (April 25 and 26) and include Les Claypool's Bastard Jazz (May 3, featuring Mike Dillon, Stanton Moore, and Skerik) and Jim James (May 5).

Portwood credited the intimate size of the Joy with making it possible for Winter Circle Productions to attract the talent that it does.

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Renovations have spruced up performance space at the downtown theater with a long history.

“Musicians like the opportunity to play smaller places from time to time,” Portwood said. “There’s room for 900 general admission customers on the floor and 256 reserved seats in the balcony. It might sound big, but it's an intimate space.”


Contact R. Stephanie Bruno at rstephaniebruno@gmail.com