Jaws will drop a little lower the next time visitors step into Shea’s Performing Arts Center.
As workers started Monday to dismantle the 65-foot-high mountain of metal scaffolding at the front of the ornate theater, the scrubbed, painted and better-lit proscenium arch, together with the ceiling and high walls near the stage, began to reveal a movie-palace grandeur that had been dimmed by decades of inattention.
The rich turquoises, golds and reds embedded in the floral and fruit designs, and other patterns, will be on display when Curtain Up! is held Sept. 20, and for the theater’s upcoming 2013-2014 Broadway Series that starts in mid-October.
“It will be exciting once the end of the week comes around and we see more and more of the scaffolding removed, revealing more of the rich colors that were there to begin with and that we have brought back,” said Doris Collins, the theater’s restoration consultant.
“We feel this will also bring on an excitement for next summer, when the rest of the ceiling is going to be done.”
The $500,000 restoration project – the third of five phases, in which the remaining projects are to be completed by Spring 2016 – began four days after Shea’s closed its sold-out run of “The Book of Mormon” in June.
The scaffolding – which included bridge-like braces across the orchestra pit – was erected by Safe Span of Tonawanda. Painting was done by locally based Swiatek Studios, with assistance from two union painters.
Collins determined the precise colors and glazes that matched designer Louis Comfort Tiffany’s original plan, continuing a palette visible in the carpeting, lobby and staircases. The cream-based walls were painted over with an amber glaze.
“It looks fresher, but it’s not supposed to scream brand new. It will still have that polished, antique look,” Collins said.
The lingering smell of tobacco from years ago when people were allowed to smoke in the theater was evident as areas were vacuumed and then washed with a mild baking soda solution.
Lighting underneath the flower vases on either side wall was also corrected.
“You couldn’t see them because they were filthy, and there was no direct lighting underneath,” Colliins said.
Anthony C. Conte, Shea’s president, said he thought improvements in lighting would make a big impression when people enter the 3,019-seat auditorium that’s on the National Register of Historic Places.
The scaffolding allowed the top corners of the proscenium, which had been blocked at the time the roof was raised to build the stagehouse, to be relit with 300 to 400 bulbs, Conte said.
“From a restoration perspective, it doesn’t really change anything, but from a physical perspective, all of a sudden it’s magic. People will be amazed,” Conte said.
Stagehand Shaun Flahive led volunteers in dipping 1,200 blue and red recessed LED bulbs in a special glass stain, since the energy-saving bulbs aren’t made in color. Another 2,200 bulbs will be added when the rest of the ceiling is completed.
Sockets, wiring and fixtures also were replaced.
Eighty percent of the ceiling is due to be completed next summer at a cost of $800,000, money Shea’s has in hand, Conte said. That will leave a number of smaller projects to complete. One will involve the manufacturing of about 45 globes for light fixtures that alone could have a price tag of $100,000, Conte said, noting a manufacturer capable of replicating the original had yet to be found.