We have a paid a lot of attention here at UrbanToronto to all of the new cultural attractions as they have opened up in the city over the last several years, most recently the wonderful tiff|Bell LIghtbox, while we have paid much less attention to the rebirth of another one of our jewels, the classic O'Keefe/Hummingbord/Sony Centre
. Despite our inattentiveness, the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts is about to re-open on the 50th anniversary of its opening as the Peter Dickinson-designed O'Keefe Centre.
The building is at the end of a $30 Million restoration, during which as much as possible was done to bring the centre back to its sparkling, polished 1960 look, albeit with some modern interventions. Those interventions include LED lighting, significantly beefed up food service facilities, and the many Sony screens which now appear throughout the centre. 189 Bronze doors and over 1,000 bronze handrail pickets were removed, and refinished throughout the building. Meanwhile in the front lobby, glass panels were removed from the coved ceiling and the elevator shaft, marble that was hidden for years was uncovered and buffed, parapet walls that hid the escalators were lowered to open up the space.
The restoration also means that the late York Wilson
's great mural hanging over the lobby, The Seven Lively Arts
, has been preserved. (UrbanToronto recently featured photos of York Wilson's other great Toronto mural at the Impreial Oil building on St. Clair Avenue, shortly being reborn as Camrost-Felcorp's Imperial Plaza.)
The upstairs lobby now features a bar which will open at 4 PM everyday, and give those who come in off the street a chance to enjoy some socializing after work, or before a show. The lobby will be open to all: tickets will only be checked at the auditorium doors.
At 6 PM on show evenings, the food services as guided by Executive Chef Stephen Lee will open for the evening, providing a meal themed for the production currently running in the auditorium. Patrons will also be able to wander through the centre's side lobbies and downstairs lobby. Throughout the opening months a retrospective of York Wilson
's work from his wife Lela's collection will hang on the walls of the lobbies, some pieces of which will be available for sale.
The side lobbies were once covered by 8 by 10 glossies of the stars who had performed at the centre. Those photos have been removed, but all have been scanned, and they now appear on Sony screens on the side lobby staircases.
The auditorium itself has seen a lot of work. Gone are the old seats covered with a bright red fabric. In their place are new ergonomically and acoustically-designed seats upholstered in more muted tones. The 1700 cherrywood veneer panels have been individually hand restored, as have 1500 rosewood slats lining the back wall. Acoustic elements on the side walls have all been improved as well.
The ceiling has been painted gray to stop reflected light from distracting performers.
October first also launches a new era in programming at the Centre. Dan Brambilla, CEO of the Sony Centre wants to see the centre cater to the huge number of cultural communities in the city, and the new season will showcase acts from around the world. Opening the centre is Montréal's Cirque Éloize
(pronounced EL-WAS), with a show that recalls West Side Story, cast in a new light featuring amazing acrobatics and modern dance. Those at the media event were treated to a 20-minute excerpt from the remarkable show. The following pictures do little justice to the spectacle we witnessed.
Cirque Éloize joins Sony Centre CEO Dan Brambilla on stage.
The building looks great: everything shines, feels solid, looks new again. Canada's largest auditorium has a renewed lease on life.