Paramount act: Tony Bennett headlines opening

With a two-year facelift of the Paramount Theater almost finished, the folks running the show have unveiled the details of its first season in 30 years. And like the building itself, the lineup seems to be aiming for a retro look.

Opening weekend, December 16-19, will feature legendary singer Tony Bennett and opera star Denyce Graves. Even Humphrey Bogart will appear, on celluloid, for a screening of Casablanca while big-band musicians playing brassy hits from the 1940s.

Before the season closes in May, the theater will host 33 music, dance, drama, and comedy acts– everything from Broadway hit Grease to bluegrass hotshot Ricky Skaggs. But with a few exceptions (Carrot Top, anyone?), this is not the planet's most contemporary line-up.

Selections listed on include Marvin Hamlisch, Hal Holbrook as Mark Twain, a Shakespeare play, Steel Magnolias, and jazz from the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

Organizers seem to have gone for the time-honored over the groundbreaking. For a new venue carving out a classy niche on the Downtown Mall in a city already flooded with performing arts, that might well be the right strategy.

Whether theatergoers will fork over $20 to $50 a show remains to be seen. And if you want to see Bennett in the kickoff fundraiser, the price is steeper: $250 to $1,000.

Paramount officials don't seem worried. Spokeswoman Kristen Gleason says the phones have been ringing since Bennett was announced last Friday. The man, after all, is still relevant, even if he did leave his heart in San Francisco. He won his 12th Grammy earlier this year for producing a Louis Armstrong tribute with k.d. lang.

"Any one performer you pick is going to appeal to a target audience," Gleason says. "It's a tricky business."

In more ways than one. Astute observers might recall the Paramount was slated to reopen on Thanksgiving, in honor of its original debut as a movie theater in 1931. But construction and design delays pushed the date back almost a month. Considering it took well over a decade to fund the project– now approaching $15 million– the extra wait is hardly worth a shrug.

Tony Bennett
publicity photo

The Paramount