Stage & Dance

Lyric Theatre celebrates 5th anniversary of reopening with special event

Patrick Mitchell

The Lyric Theatre is celebrating the five-year anniversary of its reopening with a big bash.

And it's doing it with the kind of blockbuster program the Lyric hopes will attract the sizeable crowds that flocked there for jazz concerts in the theater's first incarnation.

The program was designed not only to draw patrons for one night at the Lyric, according to acting director Donald Mason. The $20 VIP tickets also include free admission to a future concert that will bring them back.

Mason says repeat business is important in fully re-establishing the Lyric's identity as a thriving city cultural center where people regularly come for performances as well as for special events rentals, meetings and community outreach.

"We haven't been fully embraced by the community, and I think part of it is we haven't fully put ourselves out as a presenting facility," Mason says. "We want people to appreciate and enjoy the facility. We figure if we can get you in one time and wow you ... it will be easier for you to come back after that."

Mason, who was born in Texas but grew up in Lexington, says widening the Lyric's appeal will help it move to the next level of familiarity to possible Central Kentucky patrons. Among the initiatives are starting a show on Lexington's new low-power community FM station WLXL-95.7.

Patrick Mitchell of Message Theater says the presentation he is directing for the Lyric anniversary will "honor those in the past and honoring the efforts to reopen it."

The Lyric's second iteration as an East End cultural attraction — the building first opened in 1948 — took a lot of time and effort.

The first Lyric Theatre, which showed movies and hosted renowned jazz acts such as Duke Ellington and Ray Charles in the era of segregation, closed in 1963. The building was condemned in 1973.

A 2000 city report proposed that the Lyric be renovated into a museum, exhibit hall and theater with community meeting rooms.

The city acquired the Lyric in 2005 after an eight-year condemnation dispute. By the time a city task force undertook renovation in 2005, the Lyric's deterioration was significant: All the seats were gone, as were original light fixtures, carpet, wallpaper and even some walls.

Debra Faulk, an actress and theater instructor at the University of Kentucky, says she and actor Simon Rawlings will be dressed up as a senior citizen couple who patronized the Lyric during its first incarnation. The presentation will be woven throughout the celebration, she says.

"I'll be talking about the facts of the Lyric, what they used to do, the different acts that came through," she says. "We're talking about what the Lyric meant to us. I grew up with my mother telling me about how they used to go to the Lyric. It was their safe place."