The second I stepped in the door I felt like I was catapulted into a different world, just as Dorothy felt when she took her first step into the colorful world of Oz. The ceilings, carpets, walls, colors, and atmosphere had a magical feeling, it just didn’t seem like Waterbury, which is why The Palace is one of our great treasures. The main stage has graced many musicians in its past such as Bruce Springsteen, The Grateful Dead, Kiss and Tony Bennett. Seventeen years ago Tony Bennett closed the Palace and he came back at the beginning of November to reopen the theater.
Folks, were definitely not in Kansas anymore. I sat in the new revamped Palace for Community Day on November 14th to watch a big screen version of the Wizard of Oz, for a quarter, and could not believe my eyes. As I sat there my thoughts drifted back to my childhood. The old rundown place I had spent a lot of my young childhood in was now a gorgeous attraction for performers and theater goers smack in the middle of Downtown Waterbury. Waterbury has been thirsty for performing arts for over a decade, with the opening of the Palace it will hopefully fill the void that has been missing for so long.
Growing up I had a unique experience and relationship with the Palace Theater. In 1993 and 1994 there was a strong fight to try and reopen the Palace and revitalize it using taxpayer dollars. My father, being the publisher and editor of the Observer, wanted to be in on the action and do a story about it, so we plunged into the theater to get the story. While my dad was doing his work I used the Palace as a giant playground. I climbed the stairs into the balconies, sang on the stage in front of imaginary people, and sat at the ticket booth and sold pretend tickets to the same imaginary people so they could see my show. All in all it was a pretty fun time and from what I recall it was the best playground I’ve ever been to.
One highlight that I can recall is when Quajay Donnell and his cousins sang Happy Birthday acapella to me on the stage in the Palace Theater. I was embarrassed and happy at the same time.
The referendum to try and reopen the Palace took place on June 28th, which happened to be my birthday. At the age of six – after the voters gave the Palace proposal the thumbs down – all the crew and people involved in the Palace project sang Happy Birthday to me inside the Portuguese Club. I felt special and important.
Many adults can say that they have childhood memories of going to watch a concert or see a show at the Palace, but I actually have memories from the depth of the Palace. I spent a few months of my life romping in and around the great big stage. Maybe that’s why I want to go into musical theater, because its been in my mind since then. Sadly, after the referendum the Palace Theater remained closed for the next ten years.
Through my father I was kept posted about what was happening with the Palace, and if it would ever open its doors again. When I heard that it was starting to be revitalized and would open up in the year 2004, I was elated. I was happy that this beautiful place would finally be opened again for me and other people to enjoy. During the reconstruction of the theater my father was given special access to take pictures of it for the paper. I tagged along and got to see first hand a view of the Palace, that hardly anyone else got to see. Scaffolding and drop cloths and dust were everywhere, but that didn’t bother me. I stood in the balcony with my hard hat on and just smiled. This meant that the Palace opening up was a reality.
When I walked in to watch the Wizard of Oz I could not believe my eyes. It was like a dreamland. This little theater in the middle of Downtown Waterbury rivals the theaters I had been to in London and New York. It was an amazing sight. It took 17 years for it to come back to us, but now that it is, Waterbury will treasure it because it is bringing a great joy to the people, and to the community again.
The movie being shown at the Palace during the Community Day celebration, The Wizard of Oz, is a magical one which everyone can enjoy, especially within the confines of a Waterbury historical site like the Palace. I looked around and every seat in the house was filled. It was amazing to see so many people come out for a common love of the movie, but most of all for the theater that sits in the heart of the revitalized downtown. Waterbury has held its breath waiting for the Theaters doors to open, for people to soak in its riches. Within the next year many star studded and talented shows will pour through Waterbury including Fiddler on the Roof, Bill Cosby, and Jesus Christ Superstar. These shows are top notch and would be expected to come to the Bushnell or the Shubert, but they are coming to Waterbury. These shows give people other things to do on a night out than just go to a movie. Even teens can find enjoyment in the Palace whether its a Broadway show or a concert coming through. Its not just geared for adults.
The Palace Theater and the new buildings growing around it are slowly bringing a new and clean face to the Brass City, a change so desperately needed with the problems the city has faced in the past few years. The Palace had a mission to bring people into Waterbury. In my opinion it has done its job already and it has only been open for a little over a month. People are coming down to enjoy shows and I don’t think it’s just a fad. People have been waiting for this for a really long time and its not going to just fade out like a 30 million dollar fart in the wind. The different faces I saw on the day of the open house signified the power the Palace has to draw people of all walks of life in its doors. People were more excited to just be sitting in the Palace Theater, than to actually be watching The Wizard of Oz on the big screen.
During the day of the open house the Magnet Arts School, which is directly next to the Palace, was open for people to gaze at the opportunities provided by this new establishment. It was amazing to see the different types of music, theater, acting, dance and art that were produced by the students that attend the school. This is also a new addition to East Main St. This school encourages children and teens to enjoy performing arts in a school environment. The school is connected to the Palace Theater, so the students will have opportunities to perform on the big stage.
All the news about the Palace seems like it is geared towards adults, but it doesn’t have to be. I encourage teenagers to go down and order tickets to a show, or go watch a concert. Not just because the show might be good, but because of where it is. The theater is a piece of Waterbury history, and it would be an experience to watch something inside of it. The walls of the theater are covered in sculpted paintings. Tilt your head and look up and you’ll never want to look down again. The ceiling is decorated with one of the most beautiful pieces of art I have ever seen in my life. The Palace is a much better experience than going to watch a movie in a dark boring movie theater. The Palace has a presence to it. As you sit in the seats you can almost feel a magic floating in the air. It has to be magic, because after 17 years, its here again, and helping to clean up Waterbury one show at a time.