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Renovation paying off for Alex Theatre

Bob O’Neill
With new renovations at the Alex Theater finished that included a dock and elevator, technical director Bob O’Neill said large items can be unloaded from trucks and sent down to the stage or down one more floor to the dressing room area, shown here, in Glendale on Wednesday, March 18, 2015.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

A multimillion-dollar renovation for hosting bigger productions is paying off for the Alex Theatre, which saw a bigger audience turnout in the beginning of this year, compared to the same time a year ago.

More than 15,000 people saw a show at the Alex between January and March compared to 11,000 in early 2014, said Elissa Glickman, chief executive of Glendale Arts, the nonprofit that manages the theater.

The Alex presented productions of the musicals “Les Miserables” and “Billy Elliot” in January and February, respectively — large-scale productions that couldn’t be put on before the renovation project.

The $5-million face-lift completed last year added larger dressing rooms, one of the biggest changes, Glickman said.

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“We would hold a lot of dancers in our green room,” she said. “Before, if we had more than 50 or 60 dancers, we’d have to put them in a tent in the back parking lot, which is not the most intelligent way to bring one of the most prestigious dance companies to your venue.”

Theater-goers have been responding positively. A recent survey showed that more than 80% of the 120 people polled were very satisfied with the production quality of “Billy Elliot.” More than half of the respondents said the show was a good value for the ticket price.

But in addition to tracking its own success, the theater’s management also wants to see if the increased audience size is helping boost downtown Glendale’s economy.

A little fewer than half of survey respondents said they dined locally before or after the show.

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And the growth in the number of patrons from beyond Glendale’s borders is helping, too.

“We’re drawing in people from much farther outside our local community than we ever have in the past,” Glickman said.

Philip Lanzafame, director of the city’s economic development department, emphasized the importance of those outside visitors and was pleased with the increase in theater-goers.

“Having the Alex draw that number of people is an important element of the 18-hour city,” he said.

Up next at the Alex Theatre is a nearly sold-out production of the L.A. Ballet’s “The Sleeping Beauty” at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.

There aren’t any more large-scale musicals like “Billy Elliott” or “Les Miserables” in the current season, but their success will be used to attract productions on that level, Glickman said.

There’s also no shortage of smaller or independent productions booking time at the Alex, and the audience for those kinds of shows is growing as well, she said.

“For the first time in 11 years, we’re already having trouble finding available dates for people this time next year,” Glickman said. “While our spring is busy, we’re never busy this far out.”

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