Q&A with the Saenger Theatre's David Skinner

The theater's general manager talks about the reopening.
David Skinner

In a culmination of a slow resurgence on Canal Street, the Saenger Theater, which suffered significant damage following Hurricane Katrina, is back. The theater underwent a $52 million restoration and announced an enviable slate of upcoming programing, including a Book of Mormon helmed Broadway lineup, stand-up comedy shows, concerts and everything in between. Jerry Seinfeld opened the theater with three shows in late September, and a concert Oct. 5 featuring the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra and multi-hyphenate Kristin Chenoweth serves as the theater’s official opening gala.

Saenger general manager David Skinner, who holds the same position at the Mahalia Jackson Theater, discusses the much-anticipated opening.

Why did you choose the Kristen Chenoweth concert for the theater’s opening event? We wanted a pick an artist we thought was indicative of the kind of venue we are, which is a performing arts venue.

We have Broadway, we have concerts. When trying to find an artist that echoes both of those … she fits the bill. Besides, she’s kind of pretty, too.

What will people who frequented the theater in the past like the renovation? They’re going to go wild … from the moment they walk in the front door. In the arcade, there are more lights than they’ve ever seen before. In the early 1950s, [the arcade had] three chandeliers, and they were sold off when the building was in financial trouble. They’re back today. [The theater was] repainted to the way it was in ’27. It’s more vibrant then what people remember. They’ll walk in and say, “Wow, this was worth the wait.”

What’s the upgrade to the theater you’re most proud of? The stage house was enlarged. The stage prior to Katrina was one of the smaller stages, if not the smallest stage, in all of touring Broadway shows. Some of the larger shows like Lion King and Wicked that were at the Mahalia Jackson Theater could never have played the Saenger. All those shows can now be at the Saenger, which is the most important thing.

What are the shows you’re most excited about? The Book of Mormon – it won so many awards on Broadway. I’ve seen pieces of Ghost and I think it’ll be extremely enjoyable. And Beauty and the Beast.

Disney, when they put out DVDs, they put them out for a limited time – same with Beauty and the Beast. It’s the last year it’s going on tour and then it’ll go on the shelf. Who knows when it’ll come back. We’re very fortunate get it in its last year.

The Civic and Joy Theaters also on Canal recently announced their calendars for the season. I think it’s great. What it shows is New Orleans is on the rise, not that we’re back – we’ve been back for a while. [Those theaters] don’t compete with us; we complement each other. From a patron and citizen – which I am – perspective, it’s fantastic. … [The Saenger’s] always considered ourselves the anchor of Canal Street. Once we come back you’ll see the lights flashing away above you, the beehive of activity. At that point the icon’s back and that’s going to mean a lot for the citizens and the psyche of this city.

Visit SaengerNola.com for more details.