The hammers stopped pounding, the hard hats came off, and opening night arrived on cue.
Somehow, everything was ready.
It was March 14, 2008, and the magic hasn’t stopped re-appearing at the Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts since singer/actor Bernadette Peters raised the proverbial curtain on the place that fine Friday evening.
In its eight years, the Hanover has proved itself nothing short of a star player on the downtown stage [the global stage, too, having been ranked 33rd in a list of the world’s top theaters in 2012 — at the tender age of 4]. The gleaming theater is an example of vision and excellence that does Worcester proud. And, as exemplified by a major expansion underway, it’s still reimagining itself.
Creating the Hanover was an urban-renewal risk that has paid off in countless ways.
Backers of the $31 million, public-private project believed in it full-tilt. Many around the city, though, were at best cautiously hopeful during the waiting years, as major reconstruction transformed the building at 2 Southbridge St., in Federal Square.
But success was in the script.
The building, built in 1904, was in its early years a venue for burlesque shows. Eventually, in the late 1990s, it was left empty and silent, after having served as a four-screen movie theater for about 30 years. In the early 2000s it was, in short, an eyesore, although with a sound and somewhat ornate structure and sort-of glamorous history.
Enter Edward P. Madaus and Paul J. Demoga, who in 2002 established the Worcester Center for the Performing Arts. The nonprofit’s mission was to provide the city a world-class theater for Broadway-scale musicals and other kinds of productions, shows not readily handled by other city venues such as the lovely Mechanics Hall and Tuckerman Hall.
“If there’s anything we did right in this thing, we hired the best people,” Madaus told the Telegram & Gazette days before the 2008 grand opening. “The best finance people, the best architect, the best construction companies.”
That foundation properly set the stage.
Once they saw it, and took their seats under the shimmer of the vintage chandelier, residents from around Central Massachusetts lost no time adding the 2,300-seat Hanover to their list of places to keep coming to.
Here in the city’s center was a relatively easy-to-access, large hall for the arts, lectures, community forums and celebrity appearances; a hall with history, originality, a welcoming air and all the warm and lavish touches of a big-city opera house.
Highlights of the Hanover’s eight years so far include the complex assembly of the Mighty Wurlitzer organ in 2009, winning a National Preservation Honor Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2010, and installation of an eye-catching mural on the building’s back in 2015.
The Hanover has also involved itself heavily in education and community outreach.
All along, it’s played a role in further downtown improvements. The theater itself plans a restaurant, education space and function rooms for the adjoining building it bought in 2014 and is renovating to the left of its front entrance.
And while drawing visitors on its own, the theater nicely complements numerous other upgrades to the downtown area, including CitySquare, various new businesses including the multipurpose home of the Sun at 20 Franklin St., underground parking nearing completion, the refurbished library and train station, the ice-skating oval and extensive streetscaping.
Meanwhile, the theater has brought cultural enrichment that matters in a vibrant city but is hard to calculate. Hanover Executive Director Troy Siebels told a Boston Globe reporter in 2011 that he thought many Hanover show attendees were new audience members, not people who otherwise would have gone to Boston to see a show.
The Hanover will hold tours over the next few weeks to showcase its architecture and history.
Another way to revisit the place is to buy tickets to something, go out to dinner beforehand, and stroll through the light-filled lobby into that elegant and upbeat space. There’s a word for this lucky feeling: “Showtime!”