The Neptune Theatre, which presented movies in Seattle's University District starting in 1921, closed this year for renovations, after being leased by the nonprofit Seattle Theatre Group. The official grand opening starts Sept. 25 — a long rollout of more than 40 shows through Dec. 1.
The venerable Neptune Theatre, in the University District, hosted its inaugural concert as a new, live-arts venue back in June, when Mark Lanegan of the Screaming Trees performed.
But that was just the “soft opening,” says the nonprofit Seattle Theatre Group (STG), which operates the Paramount and Moore theaters and signed a long-term lease last year to operate the 90-year-old former cinema.
The official grand opening starts Sept. 25 — a long rollout of more than 40 shows through Dec. 31. The first five events are free and include an “open house” each day, when folks can come have a look at the colorful, restored details of the historic theater before taking in programs of film, comedy, community arts, dance and music.
Seattle Theatre Group executive director and self-confessed “historic theater geek” Josh LaBelle says he is particularly excited about the restoration of the eyes of Neptune, whose face is nestled in the theater ceiling.
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“We were able to uncover the eyeballs,” said LaBelle, “which are this beautiful, different-colored glass. So Neptune’s eyes are glowing. Getting the eyes glowing, for me personally was a supercool thing.”
Burnishing Neptune’s eyes was just one aspect of the four-month renovation, which included — on the safety side — a new sprinkler system that wound up costing more than expected and proper railings. STG also installed a bar and theatrical lighting, refurbished and expanded the restrooms and uncovered a good amount of detail around the proscenium stage.
“A lot of care went into that,” said LaBelle.
STG consulted on the renovations with Craig Thompson, whose family bought the land at Northeast 45th Street and Brooklyn Avenue Northeast in 1919 and built the Neptune two years later.
The total cost of the renovation, said LaBelle, is $730,000, of which $200,000 has been raised so far, including a $58,000 grant for safety improvements from the King County arts agency 4Culture.
The soft opening gave STG the opportunity to fine-tune the project. The night Lanegan performed, the theater turned into a hothouse, but LaBelle says the air conditioning has since been fixed. Early reports also indicate the acoustics of the Neptune — with its sound-friendly plaster walls and wooden fixtures — are excellent, but LaBelle says even that has been “tweaked.”
“I’m pretty happy,” he said. “And I’m a pain-in-the-ass sound customer.”
The 800-seat Neptune affords STG a midsize venue to complement the Paramount’s 2,800-person capacity and the Moore’s 1,400, said LaBelle.
“I think the value for us is going to be around involving our company in artist development,” he said. “Working with artists earlier in their career trajectory than perhaps the Paramount and the Moore would allow.”
LaBelle admits new theaters can be spectacular, but says he is passionate about preserving historic ones.
“There’s juju in these places!” he said. “I don’t know how else to put it. The architecture, the history they have in the community, the connections people have. It’s intangible, it’s hard to put a value on it. But their beauty and splendor — they don’t build ’em like this anymore.”
The schedule of events for the first five days of the grand opening, including a free open house each day, are:
• Sept. 25: “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” movie screening.
• Sept. 26: Comedy Cavalcade curated by the People’s Republic of Komedy, hosted by Luke Burbank (of “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me”) and featuring Jon Keister, Rylee Newton, improv by the Ashley Judd Comedy Hour and short films by Mike Drucker Adventure Buddies.
• Sept. 27: The Total Experience Gospel Choir, including a singing lesson by choir director Pat Wright; the EriAm Sisters with MOV, Critical and More Music @ The Moore alums; and the maritime music of William Pint & Felicia Dale.
• Sept. 28: Salsa lesson by Vanessa Villalobos & Christian Paquin with the 8-piece band Sonora la Rebelión; hip-hop lesson by Daniel Cruz with DJ WD4D.
• Sept. 29: Bobby Long; Mads Jacobsen (More Music @ The Moore alum); with preshow guitar lessons.
Some of the artists booked after the first five days include Mason Jennings, Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, Marc Maron and Duff McKagan.
Paul de Barros: 206-464-3247 or firstname.lastname@example.org