Behind the scenes look at a powerful performance!

While visiting Rockford, Illinois over Thanksgiving, I was invited to attend the Rockford Dance Company's production of the Nutcracker Suite at the Coronado Theater. Little did I know what a treat was in store. Not only was the performance fantastic, and the theater was unlike anything I've experienced, but I got to meet a longtime favorite blogger -- M. Simon of Power and Control -- who lives in Rockford and whose very talented daughter Camille Simon had two roles in the production.

The theater took my breath away, and it has to be seen to be believed. They just don't make 'em like that any more, and my photos (taken at night, with difficulty) don't do the place justice. This was an extravagantly, decadently opulent theater when it was built, and unlike it's counterparts in many larger cities (long since demolished) the Coronado has been restored to perfection. It provides real evidence of another American era -- a whimsically esthetic time of cultural revival. Whether it took the form of Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Neo Babylonian or Egyptian revival, such frivolous and lovable decadence just couldn't quite survive the serious times that followed in which modern America "grew up." Now that we are mature, Americans look back with wonder and awe at days largely gone and forgotten.

Wikipedia accurately describes the Coronado's design as "breathtaking":

The elaborate auditorium of the theater is designed according to the atmospheric style which was popular in movie houses built in the 1920's. This style simulates an outdoor theater-going experience. The Coronado's auditorium walls are decorated with the facades of gilded Spanish-style buildings, and the ceiling looks like a deep blue sky filled with twinkling stars and floating clouds. The auditorium is full of gilded detail. Green stained-glass lamps with fluted bulbs adorn the walls. Japanese dragons and glowing lanterns cover the organ screens on either side of the stage. The seats are covered with plush red velvet.

The lobby is as elaborately designed as the auditorium. One of the lobby's focal points is a statue of Venus standing in front of a golden seashell. Because of its breathtaking interior design, the Coronado is sentimentally referred to as "Rockford's Wonder Theater."

A few of my photos follow.

Here's the outside at night:


Immediately after you enter, the lobby ceiling looks like this:


Some random interior details give a general idea of the opulence of the place:




(I preserved the anonymity of the patrons on the staircase, as they weren't engaged in a public demonstration or anything, and I have no way of knowing whether they would want their faces appearing in a blog.)

The performance was fantastic. The dancers couldn't have been more talented and professional, and my only criticism does not involve them, but only the apparent shortage of male ballet dancers -- which I'm told is a problem in many cities. (Back in the days of Shakespearean theater, men used to play women, so the new role reversal is ironic.)

Unfortunately, I was not allowed to photograph the performance, so readers won't be able to appreciate the costumes, scenery, or performers.

However, there was no rule against photographing the power behind the scenes, or a guy who in fairness should be considered the man behind the controls -- M. Simon of Power and Control. I already mentioned that his daughter Camille was in the performance, but what I only found out later is that the theater still has the original control levers, with which he is obviously familiar.

As it turned out, I was allowed to pose at the controls with Mr. Power and Control himself!


(Talk about leverage!)

Simon is justifiably proud of his daughter as well as the theater, and he has two posts about the evening here, and here.

A great weekend. I only wish there'd been more time.

posted by Eric on 11.27.06 at 09:57 AM


There are actually theaters like this all over America, Eric. Not as many as there once were, it's true, but I've had my breath taken away in places like that from coast to coast.

It's one of the things that I've loved most about my work as a lighting director.

Billy Beck   ·  November 27, 2006 9:50 PM

I haven't seen anything like this theater in Philadelphia or San Francisco. I've seen some old classic theaters, but none this opulent. I'm sure they existed, but in big cities there's more economic pressure to tear them down.

Eric Scheie   ·  November 27, 2006 10:29 PM

Actually, I can't think of a nice theater in Philadelphia. I been to The Tower several times and wasn't really impressed.

It's Oakland -- not San Fancisco -- but The Paramount is a jaw-dropping exercise in Art Deco. One of my all-time faves.

The Fox Theaters in St. Louis and Detroit are fabulous. The Plaza in El Paso, Texas was a revelation the first time I went through there in 1984 and I've loved it ever since. Shea's in Buffalo is a perennial fave.

Those are just a few off the top of my head.

Yes; a lot of the great old Vaudeville proscenium houses have been lost, but there are still some great, great beauties out there.

Billy Beck   ·  November 29, 2006 11:24 AM

Post a comment

April 2011
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30


Search the Site


Classics To Go

Classical Values PDA Link


Recent Entries


Site Credits