Union’s State gets makeover

Greater Union is set to embark on a major restoration and expansion program of its 66-year-old, 2,030-seat State Theater building.

Starting next year the project will restore the two levels below ground – which have been moth-balled for about eight years – into a restaurant, jazz club and supper club area, in tandem with a complete rewiring of the theater. At the same time, the theater’s external facade will be restored, ensuring a costly restoration tab.

The upgrade will complement the venue’s main auditorium and foyer areas, which were renovated to their former Romanesque, art deco and neo-Gothic styles in 1980 at a cost of more than $740,000.

General manager David Penfold believes the venue will continue operating as normal during the underground refurbishment, but foresees a closure during a backstage upgrade, which has yet to be scheduled.

“We are committed to redeveloping the theater as a lyric venue,” Penfold says. “At present, backstage is very limited, which is why I have targeted the concert market.”

Home to the Sydney Film Festival for two weeks every year for the past 22 years, the venue also is used for movie premiere evenings. But it is the musical and concert areas in which the State has come into its own.

Its most legendary visitor was Bette Midler, who in the 1970s was booked for four concerts, only to see Midlermania keep her there for 14. Other star personalities to grace the State include Harry Connick Jr., Shirley Maclaine, Peter Ustinov, Bob Dylan and Whoopi Goldberg.

Brightest musical shows in recent years have included “The Mikado,” ‘Anything Goes,” “High Society,” “The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber with Michael Crawford” and annual summer pantomimes such as “Aladdin” and “Cinderella.”

The State also has been part of revolutionizing the ticket industry in Sydney, with Greater Union entering a joint venture with Cameron Mackintosh and the U.K.’s Ticket Group to form First Call agency. This breaks a long-held monopoly on the city’s ticket-booking system by Kerry Packer’s Ticketek. The four theaters handled exclusively by First Call are the State, the newly restored Capital Theater (where Mackintosh’s “Miss Saigon” recently opened), the Footbridge and the Theater Royal.

Established in December under the stewardship of Will Quekett, First Call is an around-the-clock service with ticket booths in Greater Union’s nine Sydney cinema multiplexes. Quekett said the unit is trading profitably in line with its business plan, which has been reported as having a 1995-96 revenue target of $51.1 million.

“We were unhappy with our previous ticketing,” Penfold says. “Cameron Mackintosh have always done their own ticketing and we thought it was a good chance to break up a monopoly.”

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