Post image for Los Angeles Theater Opening: WALLIS ANNENBERG CENTER FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS (Beverly Hills)

by Tony Frankel on November 4, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles


Artist's rendering of the The Wallis Annenberg Performing Arts Center at night.A brand new theater has opened its doors in Beverly Hills, but nothing could have prepared me for its magnificence in contemporary construction and design. The 500-seat Bram Goldsmith Theater opens to the public this week with the Martha Graham Dance Company, but the state-of-the-art theater is just one part of The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts (The Wallis). Bordered by Crescent Drive, Canon Drive and Santa Monica Boulevard, The Wallis has realized a template for all future spaces, both new and renovated.

Artist's rendering of the The Wallis Annenberg Performing Arts Center.There are two diverse and sophisticated buildings, both designed by Zolton E. Pali and his firm Studio Pali Fekete Architects. The first is the renovated historic 1934 Italianate-style Beverly Hills Post Office (now the Paula Kent Meehan Historic Building). Divinely refurbished to a grandeur one associates with palaces, the beautiful and ornate grand lobby is rich in Italian marble – which has been polished to a gleaming splendor – and original light fixtures. The Post Office was constructed as a Work Projects Administration (WPA) venture, so six of Charles Kassler’s eight murals near the vaulted ceiling depict laborers and artisans working on WPA projects; the other two portray the postal service. Reminiscent of Paul Cadmus’s work, the frescoes have been meticulously renewed.

The post boxes are now the box office, and the loading dock has been transformed into the 150-seat Lovelace Studio Theater, a flexible black-box performance space with retractable seating and a high ceiling; it will be used for both public performances (new works, cabaret, workshops) and children’s programming. Eight original Depression-era murals border the Grand Hall’s marble walls of the The Wallis Annenberg Performing Arts Center.Adjoining the theater is a wing with three educational classrooms which will be used as a professional theater school for young people (a year-round curriculum and summer sessions are planned). Art graces the walls throughout; look for Roy Lichtenstein’s 1971 Peace Through Chemistry bronze (David Phoenix designed the Wallis’s interiors).

Surrounding the Post Office is the Education Courtyard and a landscaped Sculpture Garden and Promenade Terrace, both of which can be espied through the Promenade doors. The Promenade begins at the gift shop and café in the lobby, passes the Lovelace – where a series of French doors connects the Studio Theater Gallery to a garden – and leads to the pièce de résistance: The Bram Goldsmith Theater, named after the man who gave a $5 million gift for the venue.

Artist's rendering of the Bram Goldsmith Theater at The Wallis Annenberg Performing Arts Center.At last, a brand new theater comes along with the best sight lines imaginable. The generously raked orchestra seats 400 and the balcony 100; I checked every viewpoint, and each extraordinarily spacious seat has a good view. Naturally, there is cutting-edge lighting, but I was most taken with the adaptable acoustics by JaffeHolden (the massive, solid concrete walls and roof will isolate traffic noise). Transparent wood screens wrap the space; some are used as clarifying sound reflectors while others allow sound to travel to the top rows. Hidden behind the American Walnut walls are adjustable acoustic drapes. Most impressive is the tunable wood orchestra shell which can float down from the flyspace and accommodate a 75-piece orchestra (there is also a hydraulic pit-lift for orchestras accompanying musicals). There’s even an acoustically isolated “quiet room” at the rear for children and patrons with special needs who can view the show through glass.

Artist's rendering of the Promenade at The Wallis Annenberg Performing Arts Center.The programming reflects the adaptability of the Goldsmith. It is well-suited for chamber opera, musicals, theater, dance and music – classical, acoustic and amplified. Following Martha Graham, the Wallis is producing Parfumerie, adapted by E.P. Dowall from the Miklos Laszlo play which also inspired the musical She Loves Me and the film You’ve Got Mail. It stars Richard Schiff and Arye Gross and will play Nov. 26 – Dec. 22, 2013. In February, the astounding Kneehigh Theater production of Noël Coward’s Brief Encounter – a revelation when I saw it at A.C.T. – will finally have its L.A. premiere; this will be complemented by Noël: The Letters and Songs of Noël Coward in the Lovelace Studio Theatre.

Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema Los Angeles preview of The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills.Also expect dance (Les Ballet Jazz de Montréal, Jessica Lang Dance, Maurice Hines’ Tappin’ Thru Life), opera (Ricky Ian Gordon’s A Coffin in Egypt starring Frederica von Stade), classical music (St. Lawrence String Quartet, Rueibin Chen performing Rachmaninoff, Persian pianist Ramin Bahrami), and Special Exhibitions, Children’s Theater and a Family Concert Series. The Goldsmith will also be used for screenings and private events. With such a lush theater and headliner entertainment, it is surprising that many dance, classical and theater tickets start at $59, $49 and $25 respectively. With limited engagements in intimate settings, it is highly recommended that you check out your calendar now for future performances.

Exterior design of the Bram Goldsmith Theater at The Wallis Annenberg Performing Arts Center - photo by John Linden.Not only is this an ideal location between the Westside and Hollywood, but the parking under the center is run by the city of Beverly Hills – that means $1 an hour, maximum $6. A classy glass elevator takes you directly to the property near the Motor Court and the entrance to the Grand Hall.

This project constitutes another template for Los Angeles: In a city that often lacks infrastructure between the disparate arts communities, The Wallis was a significant undertaking that couldn’t have been done without community effort. Generous individuals, the Beverly Hills City Council, artists and architects all worked together because they had a unified vision. Along with the Valley Performing Arts Center and The Broad, this is the most exciting new venue to come to L.A. in years.

The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts - POSTER

photos courtesy of Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts

Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd. in Beverly Hills
inaugural 2013-2014 season now on sale
for tickets, call 310.746.4000 or visit http://www.TheWallis.org

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