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Guild Hall's New Theater Opens Saturday

Mon, 07/01/2024 - 13:37
Guild Hall's newly renovated theater is set to open this weekend.
Peter Pennoyer Architects

Audiences will finally have a chance to experience the broader and more comfortable seating, the improved sightlines, and the state-of-the-art technology and acoustic upgrades of Guild Hall's renamed Hilarie and Mitchell Morgan Theater, starting Saturday at 7 p.m. with a performance by Student Body, a local band.

"August Wilson: The Ground on Which I Stand," a documentary about the late playwright produced and directed by Sam Pollard, will be shown Sunday at 7 p.m. Produced in 2015 for PBS's "American Masters" series, the film will be followed by a conversation between Mr. Pollard and Susan Lacy, creator of the acclaimed series.

The reopening of the theater will culminate on Friday, July 12, at 8 p.m., with "An Evening With Billy Porter," a benefit concert starring the Grammy, Emmy, and three-time Tony Award-winning actor and vocalist.

Billy Porter, an actor and singer with a Grammy, Emmy, and three Tony Awards to his credit, will give a benefit concert at Guild Hall.  Franz Szony Photo

Mr. Porter began his music career in 1997 with the release of a self-titled debut album, which spawned the top 10 “Bubbling Under” single “Show Me,” and the monster ballad “Love Is On The Way.” He went on to release “At the Corner of Broadway + Soul” (2005), “Billy’s Back on Broadway” (2014), and “The Soul of Richard Rodgers” (2017), which featured Pentatonix, India.Arie, Leslie Odom Jr., and Cynthia Erivo.

He scored his first #1 hit with “Love Yourself” in 2019, and followed that with a 2020 reimagining of the Buffalo Springfield anthem “For What It’s Worth.” In 2021, he covered Juliet Roberts's club classic “Caught In The Middle” for Red Hot + Free, which supports underserved communities afflicted with H.I.V./AIDS.

A veteran of the theater ("Miss Saigon," "Angels in America," "Grease"), Mr. Porter received a Tony for the best leading actor in a musical for "Kinky Boots" in 2013, and won the 2024 Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award. In 2019, he took home an Emmy for outstanding lead actor in a drama series for his work as Pray Tell on the FX series "Pose," making history as the first openly gay man to do so. Time Magazine named him one of its 100 Most Influential People of 2020. 

A few tickets priced at $250 and $500 remained as of press time. Thousand-dollar tickets include pre-concert and post-concert cocktail receptions, as well as the best seats in the house. Buyers of $500 tickets are invited for the pre-concert event in the garden. 

Student Body, led by multi-instrumentalist Gian Carlo Feleppa, also includes Jennifer Hoopes and Kevin Foran. It is an honor to be invited to help launch the theater, Mr. Feleppa said. He plans to open the concert by playing the sitar for five or 10 minutes, lulling the audience with gentle sounds "before they get the opposite."

The program will also include a 10-minute short film compiled from Super 8 film shot by Richard Feleppa, the musician's father, in the '60s and '70s. It features what is now archival footage of Amagansett, Sag Harbor, and other East End locations. The elder Feleppa, who is 88, will be in the audience. 

The band promises "a night of high-energy musical performance intertwined with moments of introspection and reverence." Tickets are $25, $20 for Guild Hall members.

For "August Wilson: The Ground on Which I Stand," Mr. Pollard had unprecedented access to the playwright's theatrical archives and rarely seen interviews. Dramatic readings bring to life Wilson's 10-play cycle chronicling each decade of the 20th-century African-American experience. Wilson's honors included seven New York Drama Critics' Circle awards, a Tony Award, and two Pulitzer Prizes.

Viola Davis, Charles Dutton, Laurence Fishburne, James Earl Jones, Suzan-Lori Parks, and Phylicia Rashad talk about the experience of bringing Wilson's theatrical voice to the stage. Other perspectives come from his sister, Freda Ellis; his widow and costume designer, Constanza Romero, and a number of others: friends, colleagues, and scholars.

“Having the opportunity to explore Wilson’s creative process and his tenacity in looking at the African-American experience in the 20th century was one of the most exciting endeavors I have ever had in my film career,” said Mr. Pollard, who received an Academy Award nomination for "4 Little Girls" with Spike Lee in 1998, and, in 2010, an Emmy for the film "By the People: The Election of Barack Obama." In 2020, the International Documentary Association gave him its first Career Achievement Award.

Tickets are $25, $22.50 for members.

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