[Editor’s Note: We sent one of our editorial interns, Paige Nulty, to the Saenger Theatre Grand Opening Gala, which starred Kristin Chenoweth and the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, Saturday, Oct. 5. For this web feature, Paige shares her thoughts about the theater’s recent restoration and the show.]
Living in the New Orleans area my whole life has lent itself to the memories of many Saturday afternoons spent strolling with my family through the French Quarter or down Canal Street. I remember seeing the bright lights and unique architecture of the Saenger Theatre but being just 12 years old when Hurricane Katrina hit and promptly shut the venue down, I was never able to appreciate what waited inside. Eight years later, I was finally able to see what happened past that glittering marquee.
For me there was something so exciting about getting to experience the ever talked about Saenger Theatre for the first time, and apparently I wasn’t the only one who had been waiting. Upon hearing how I was going to spend my Saturday night, my dad gave me a mental list of features (starry ceiling, chandeliers, tiles and carpet) of the theater that I should notice and take pictures of so he could compare them to his memories. They all checked out for him and I would have to agree. Living in the shiny new world of today where it seems so many things have to be “modern,” it was amazing to experience the reopening of this antique landmark and appreciate the beautiful spectacle of it all in the same way theater fans some 86 years ago must have done when it was originally opened in 1927.
Broadway darling Kristin Chenoweth was the act I was lucky enough to see and hear, as she belted out some of the most recognized and moving songs from the stage and screen. Opening up her concert with the upbeat “Que Sera, Sera,” she sashayed around the stage in a gorgeous black and red gown that she said “looked like New Orleans.” Paying homage to other classic stars, Chenoweth covered well-known Judy Garland and Dolly Parton songs and wowed the audience with her tremendous vocal range and talent. With songs like the inspirational “Feed the Birds” from Mary Poppins and, a personal tearjerker, “When She Loved Me” from the Toy Story franchise, Chenoweth didn’t forget to pull on the heartstrings of Disney fans young and old. After the intermission and a costume change for Chenoweth, the real fun began with guests in the form of Avenue Q puppets, an on stage proposal for a sweet couple, and a duet with a lucky 14-year-old St. Mary’s Dominican student from the audience. It was at this time that Chenoweth sang the song she is probably most known for, “Popular” from the musical Wicked, but being as full of surprises as she turned out to be, Chenoweth kept the song new by singing it not only in English, but also in German and Japanese.
It was near the end that Chenoweth's Saenger performance became less about the music and more about the city. For a special encore song, Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Broadway actor Michael Cerveris handed Chenoweth a Saints jersey with the number 37 on it, honoring local hero and audience member that night Steve Gleason. Chenoweth wore it while they all sang the final song of the night, “Do You Hear the People Sing” from the musical Les Miserables. Landrieu began the song and was soon accompanied by the powerful voices of three New Orleans choirs entering from either side of the stage and marching down the aisle proudly waving large New Orleans flags. Before this highlight performance, the mayor stated that the Saenger wasn’t renovated to the way that it was, but rather, “She was rebuilt the way she was always meant to be.” Being able to see such a spectacular show in a theater as timeless and beautiful as the Saenger, I would have to say it was worth the wait.