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Performing Arts Fall Preview

The Halls Are Alive!

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Time out! Yellow flag! Tailgaters, gearheads and Okafor fanatics all need to huddle up for a reality check: Sports isn't the only game in town, and the new arena is not the only Grand Opening scheduled for the Center City this fall.

Sure, the new home of the Bobcats has twisted Fifth Street and grabbed the most media attention over the past five years -- yielding right-of-way recently to some NASCAR nonsense. But a lordly new Academic & Performing Arts Center is already gazing at the Queen City skyline from across Kings Drive with all the granite dignity of the Lincoln Memorial.

There on the rejuvenating Central Piedmont Community College campus, a gala black-tie celebration will unveil the wonders of the new Dale F. Halton Theater on November 10. Next evening, all the bells and whistles of the high-tech 1,000-seat facility will go on display as The Sound of Music ushers in a new era of theater at CPCC under the direction of Tom Hollis.

Sooner than that, Children's Theatre of Charlotte has its coming out party at ImaginOn, the pioneering joint venture with the Char-Meck Public Library. The new fantasy palace, straddling Sixth and Seventh Streets, throws open its doors from 10am to 4pm on Saturday, October 8.

Citizens who attend this festive Grand Opening will awaken to the reality that Charlotte has moved to the head of class among innovative educational projects across the nation. They'll also get a golden opportunity to tour two new theaters.

Stretching across the spacious ImaginOn lobby, a long gently sloped ramp -- wide enough for two motorcyclists or three baby strollers -- leads up to the McColl Family Theatre. If Children's Theatre's knack for sellouts carries over from its old palace on Morehead Street, 570 enchanted parents and children will be seated for each performance. Tucked away in the opposite end of ImaginOn, the Wachovia Playhouse is a beautiful little gem of a space with a thrust configuration and 250 seats. In five merry colors.

Two of the company's platinum oldies will bring the curtain up at the ImaginOn theaters. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe opens at the McColl on October 14, with artistic director Alan Poindexter revisiting the C.S. Lewis classic, and the Tarradiddle Players unearth The Velveteen Rabbit at the Wachovia two weeks later.

Bringing The Mountain

Well, even if I've been a card-carrying Loafer for over 18 years, I wasn't going to wait until October for my first peep at Charlotte's newest theaters. I invited myself over to both CP and ImaginOn earlier this month. Hollis and Poindexter were more than eager to give me the tour, as proud as first-time parents and as gleeful as playmates.

After chewing on the well-publicized demise of Charlotte Repertory Theatre for over five months, I admit to feeling buoyed by the balm offered by the Halton, the McColl and the Wachovia -- and hopeful that promising seeds for the future will sprout in these playgrounds. Susan Knowlson and Patrick Ratchford, who will star at the Halton as the preternaturally perky Maria and the terminally sober Captain von Trapp, eagerly took up my invitation to see the new hall for the first time.

Both were inclined to accentuate the positive. With good reason. While other Charlotte theater dreams have withered and died, theirs have blossomed. A year ago, Knowlson and Ratchford launched the fall season at CP's panoramic Pease Auditorium in The Last Five Years. Accompanied by a five-piece band, they played to small but enthusiastic crowds on a shoestring budget -- carrying the entire show on their able shoulders.

Now they're at the center of history, starring in what promises to be a lavish production, surrounded by a stage full of nuns and kids and villagers, accompanied by two dozen musicians, facing a packed house.

"I knew it was big," says Knowlson, marveling at the new hall. "I didn't know it was going to be so pretty. It's very traditional, which I love. I think The Sound of Music is going to be a great opening for this theater. There definitely is still theater going on. I feel so blessed and lucky to be able to do such contrasting pieces within almost a year. And I know everyone is not as lucky, but I can't imagine being more fulfilled by two pieces of theater. Both dreams for me. I have had an amazing year. So I cannot complain at all."

"There's plenty of theater going on," Ratchford chimes in. "No one can say there's nothing to do in this town as far as auditioning for shows or going to see them. This past week at City Stage, they were packed. We're finally able to sustain Forever Plaid downtown, Menopause is still doing well. So I think that says something for the folks in Charlotte, that they're ready to get out and support theater."

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