Morristown’s Mayo Performing Arts Center getting facelift for 75th birthday

The Mayo Performing Arts Center will look like this by summer 2013. Image courtesy of MPAC
The Mayo Performing Arts Center will look like this by summer 2013. Image courtesy of MPAC

Chiming guitar chords, orchestral crescendos, thunderous applause–they are familiar sounds at Morristown’s Mayo Performing Arts Center.

Now you can add another instrument to the mix:


For the next year, MPAC will undergo dramatic front-of-the-house renovations. They will include two exterior additions, an expanded lobby and restroom facilities, a new electronic marquee, a spruced-up walkway to the Starlight Room, and an elevator to provide balcony access to persons with disabilities.

The Mayo Performing Arts Center will look like this by summer 2013. Image courtesy of MPAC
The Mayo Performing Arts Center will look like this by summer 2013. Image courtesy of MPAC

The $1.5 million project–the third capital campaign since the former Community Theatre was rescued from ruin in 1994–is scheduled for completion next summer, as the venue completes its diamond jubilee season.

“What better way to commemorate 75 years than to complete the transformation of the building into a full-fledged performing arts center?” said MPAC President Allison Larena.

The expanded restrooms on the first floor and the elevator to the recently renovated balcony lobby, which includes an art gallery, should enhance the experience for patrons of the center’s 200-plus shows every year, Allison said.

“The most important piece of this is that we want our patrons to be comfortable, enjoy the performances and keep coming back,” she said. The elevator also will satisfy requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act, even though the theater had been exempted as an historic structure, she said.

MPAC gets a facelift. Please click icon for captions.

Extensions to the building will be added on each side of the entrance. The addition on the right, as viewed from South Street, will house the box office that now resides inside the lobby.  Once ticket operations move into the new space, the theater no longer will have to heat or cool the lobby during box office hours. Video screens may be added to the new box office so customers can see previews of upcoming shows, Allison said.

The main lobby, meanwhile, will become more spacious, with new carpeting and signage.

To the left of the entrance, a new addition will house an expanded ladies room. Presently, ladies room facilities are behind the box office in the lobby. Moving them to the other side of the entrance will align them more closely with the ladies room on the balcony level, for more convenient access, Allison said. Lines should be much shorter, too: There will be 12 stalls, instead of three.

The street-level men’s room will move to where the ladies room is today, and will be expanded when the box office is relocated outside. Today there are three urinals and one stall; that will go to six and four.

An electronic marquee will replace the manual sign out front; electronic poster cases eventually may be added to the new exterior structures. The new signs will not be of the flashing variety, in deference to wishes of town planning officials, Allison said.

The four stately columns outside the entrance will remain, as will the “Community Theatre” name above them, as a nod to the movie palace that opened in December 1937 with Nothing Sacred, a comedy starring Carole Lombard and Fredric March.

“It’s not overbearing,” Allison said of the exterior changes. “We’re not compromising the integrity and historical beauty of the building.”

Renovations are not expected to disrupt any performances.


December 1937: The Walter Reade movie chain opens The Community Theatre with “Nothing Sacred,” starring Carole Lombard and Fredric March.

September 1994: After years of neglect, the Community Theatre reopens–thanks to volunteer elbow-grease–for sold-out performance by Kirov Orchestra and Morristown pianist Alexander Slobodyanik

January 1995: The South Street Theatre Company, a non-profit organization, is formed to purchase and renovate the theatre.

June 1996: The South Street Theater Company, aka The Community Theatre, begins first full year of operation with a $700,000 operating budget.

1996-1997: Economic impact study by Zeigler & Lanier reports The Community Theatre economic impact is $1.5 million.

2000: Theatre has 512 members, 67 presentations, paid attendance of 42,668.

2001: Completion of $7.5 million fund drive that underwrites restoration of auditorium, stage and courtyard.

September 2005: Performing Arts School is started; it now educates more than 280 students in musical theatre and acting.

October 2005: Tony Bennett officially opens 2005-2006 season, to a packed house.

June 2007: Trustees rename venue the Mayo Center for the Performing Arts, honoring chairman and benefactor Bud Mayo.

2008: Installation of air conditioning enables first summer season at MPAC; Brooklyn Reunion Doo-Wop Show kicks it off on 100-degree day. Author John T. Cunningham updates theater history, “Miracle on South Street.”

September 2009: Comedian brad Zimmerman opens the 70-seat Starlight Room.

2010: Completion of $7.1 million capital campaign that funds new stage, rigging and fly rail system, loading bays, orchestra pit and air conditioning. The adjoining Pine Street Center is constructed to house offices, dressings rooms, classrooms and the Starlight Room for smaller performances. Free outdoor summer series, “Music Without Borders,” launches with Arts Council of Morris Area. The New Jersey Ballet brings 40th anniversary Nutcracker to Mayo Center.

May 2011: The Community Theatre at Mayo Center for the Performing Arts changes name to Mayo Performing Arts Center and unveils new logo.

2010-2011 season: MPAC presents more than 230 events, generates $6.1 million in ticket sales and has estimated $12 million economic impact on Greater Morristown businesses, based on Americans for the Arts – Arts & Economic Prosperity III Calculator.

July 2013: Projected completion of $1.5 million in renovations to include expanded restrooms, new box office and marquee, elevator to the balcony, and enhanced walkway to the Starlight Room.

Source: Mayo Performing Arts Center

The 1,300-seat theater enlisted Morristown architect Andrew Passacantando, who redesigned the balcony lobby unveiled last year, to plan this round of improvements.  He has taken care to blend Art Deco and colonial elements to reflect the history of the theater and the town, Allison said.

Larena Construction LLC, the Livingston company owned by Allison’s husband, Paul Larena, is the general contractor, continuing its role from the back-of-the-house and balcony renovations. All of Paul’s time and a good chunk of his services are donated, “and that is one of the ways we’ve been able to accomplish so much over the years,” Allison said.

When the upgrades are complete, patrons should enjoy a more pleasant stroll to shows in the Starlight Room. An archway and awning, foliage and better lighting are envisioned for the alley between MPAC and Don’s Burgers and Fries, creating a “grander entrance,” Allison said.

A pair of previous fund drives raised nearly $15 million for computerized stage lighting and a new sound system, loading dock, dressing rooms, balcony lobby and air conditioning for year-round concerts at the nonprofit theater.

About $400,000 of the current $1.5 million goal has been raised. Naming opportunities are one way that the Mayo Center–named for benefactor Bud Mayo in 2007–aims to raise funds. The lobbies, marquee and Starlight walkway could be renamed to honor contributors, Allison said.

It’s all light years from 1994, when volunteers patched up a crumbling, leaky, mushroom-filled shell into a concert hall for the Kirov Orchestra from Russia.

Since that pivotal event, the site has hosted a parade of legendary names,  including Aretha Franklin, Tony Bennett, Ray Charles, Bill Cosby and Ringo Starr.

Artist's rendering of how the plaza of the Mayo Performing Arts Center will look after renovations are finished in July 2013. Image courtesy of MPAC.
Artist's rendering of how the plaza of the Mayo Performing Arts Center will look after renovations are finished in July 2013. Image courtesy of MPAC.








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