With the Modesto Symphony Orchestra accompanying her, Broadway star Patti Lupone was the headline act at the Gallo Center for the Arts gala opening concert that ended around 10 p.m. Thursday.
Concert-goers filed out of the $40 million concert hall and onto the plaza and onto I Street in downtown Modesto, where they're starting a dinner party and dance that will run until 1 a.m.
A few blocks down 10th Street, about 250 people had watched the program broadcast live on a large-screen television screen outside the Brenden Theater. While the crowd inside the center was wearing tuxedos and gowns, the outdoor event attracted families with children in strollers and couples sitting on blankets or in lawn chairs.
The Gallo Center crowd streamed into the center just ahead of the 7:30 symphony performance. They walked in on five red carpets, one for each doorway to the building facing I Street.
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Many of the arrivals congratulated Marie Gallo, president of the center's board of directors who 10 years ago headed the committee that brought the $40 million arts and entertainment complex from a dream to a reality.
Mrs. Gallo, wearing a yellow gown and standing with her husband, Bob, talked about how pleased she was that the center was open.
"I think the most wonderful feeling is seeing all these people here, excited and happy about something wonderful happening within the center of our community," Mrs. Gallo said. "I think it will go on for many, many years to come, and many generations."
Patty Hill Thomas, the Stanislaus County chief operating officer, said: "I have to tell you, there were times when we thought we wouldn't ever get to this day. It feels like we ought to pinch ourselves."
Traffic around the Gallo Center slowed to a crawl this afternoon as workers put the finishing touches on opening-night decor.They set out 5,000 cream-colored roses for center pieces and three tents for food stations on the plaza. The address finally went up on the building: 1000 I St.
Scott Devine, chief financial officer for the center, said everything was in place for a successful evening.
“I’ve seen a sample broadcast from the Jumbotron and it was great,” Devine said.
Don Gein, an employee of county public works, bought the last $250 orchestra seat at about 2:30 p.m.
“It would be a shame to miss this. It’s not gonna happen again. I watched from the old city hall as ground was broken for the project,” he said. “My wife can’t make it. she has previous plans with our three daughters.”
Gein said he would bring the whole family back later to see “Nutcracker.”
The event attracted plenty of media attention. Gallo Center spokesman John Segale said several newspapers, the three network television stations from Sacramento plus the Spanish-language Univision station were planning to cover the grand opening. The Bee sent five reporters, three photographers and a videographer to the festivities.
"We're excited," said Dave Pier, the arts center's executive director. "The place is buzzing. Everyone is excited about everything happening and all the pieces coming together."
To make the event more festive, some restaurants on Tenth Street Plaza offered discounts or giveaways. Starbucks, for example, gave out free samples of coffee and pastries.
"I think it's good for the community," said Downtown Improvement District Director Nancy Young about the video broadcast. "I think it's giving everybody a chance to see what's inside the Gallo Center for the Arts."
The concert was held in the 1,252-seat Rogers Theater. The orchestra played works by Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky and Copland under the direction of new conductor David Lockington. After intermission, Patti LuPone performed the first act of her show-tune-filled autobiographical show, "Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda," to the accompaniment of the orchestra.
Tickets were $200 to $1,000 because the event was a fund-raiser for the arts center.
Recently inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame, LuPone has a long list of impressive stage credits, including most famously originating the title role of "Evita."
Mark Jordan, the Modesto Symphony Orchestra concertmaster, performed in the orchestra for "Evita" when the show was in pre-Broadway previews in San Francisco in 1979. While he never got to know LuPone, he enjoyed hearing her powerful voice night after night.
"She was fabulous, very focused," the violinist said. "She was charismatic on stage. It was hard to watch our music."
The petite sparkplug later created the roles of Norma Desmond in "Sunset Boulevard" and Fantine in "Les Misérables." She also played Mrs. Lovett in "Sweeney Todd" and Mama Rose in "Gypsy."
LuPone played the mother of a developmentally disabled son on the 1989-93 ABC drama "Life Goes On" and has made numerous guest appearances on other shows over the years, most recently in ABC's comedy "Ugly Betty."
The Gallo Center made a lot of progress quickly in the past three months, going from a bare concrete structure filled with scaffolding to a finished showplace. When The Bee's 100-day countdown began June 19, some wondered if the arts center would be finished in time because there was so much work remaining.
By July, the arts center was able to add theater seats (kept covered in plastic for protection) and to spruce up the arts plaza with lavender plants, grass and trees. In August, the theater curtains went in and the arts center opened its doors for public tours during the Modesto Art & Wine Festival. Still, this was a work still very much in progress, as evidenced by the piles of wood stacked in the corner and the scaffolding in the lobby.
To the public, the work looked complete for the Sept. 10 ribbon-cutting and dedication, attended by more than 2,000 people. Townsend Opera Players, one of the Gallo Center's four resident companies, performed the first public concert Sept. 16.
Executive Director Pier and the arts center staff are thrilled that the official grand opening finally is here and that there likely will be a full house for tonight's show. He said he expects tickets to sell out by today.
"We're pretty close," he said Wednesday afternoon. "We're just about there."
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Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2313.