Tag Archives: Music Hall

DETROIT: Just Another Sunday…..

14 Apr

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My mom used to tell me stories about going to Cinerama at Music Hall in Detroit, she made it sound so exciting; the huge screen, the realistic feeling it provided, as if you were really there. Years later, Kris and I were on a theater tour of Music Hall, our guide told us all about Cinerama, how folks would dress up, opening night tickets could sell for $60, seating was reserved, the film would transport you to far-away places you could only dream of visiting; it was a big to-do in 1952. Never, did I ever imagine that I would get to experience it for myself. Today Kris and I are going to do just that! Music Hall is hosting “The Cinerama Festival”, a 5 hour marathon event that transforms the auditorium back to the days of the famed wrap-around screen. Films, panel discussions, memorabilia, even an old-fashioned concession stand; what are we waiting for? Let’s go!

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When we arrive people are seated in the center of the center section of seats, they must know something. A massive, cove-like drape hangs above the stage, a slide show recalling the history of the format is in process. The original system used 3 interlocked 35mm cameras to create the film, in theaters movies were projected from 3 projection booths arranged in the same crisscross pattern as the cameras. Screens consisted of more than 1000 strips of perforated plastic arranged like the louvers of a gigantic venetian blind. The films we are seeing today have been remastered into digital format. The event opens with “This is Cinerama”, in black and white Lowell Thomas explains the wide-screen process with technical details designed to impress audiences of the day, suddenly the image expands and is in living color, we are on a roller coaster ride, complete with mechanical sounds of climbing the hill, we nose over the edge then swoop up the next hill, I swear I can feel a rush of air. Next we are watching the Temple Dance in Aida, then to Niagara Falls, off to see the Vienna Boys Choir, we glide down the canals in Venice and witness a bullfight in Spain. It must have been an amazing thing to see in the 50’s.

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The intermission is an interactive time between the audience and the panel, questions are asked, stories are told, memories relived. We stretch our legs and wander into the bar area where old programs are available to peruse. We poke our heads into a swanky lounge area complete with a wood panel ceiling and piano, sweet! The lights are dimmed and the next film begins, Cinerama Holiday, here we follow the adventures of two couples who swap continents, an American couple travels to Europe while the Swiss couple land in St Louis MO for an adventure across the US. We vicariously experience a wild ride on a bobsled, ski down a mountain, travel via Vista-Dome across the western US, everybody is having a good time. At the break Kris and I make our exit; Art X Detroit is in full swing and we have a performance to catch.

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If you’ve never attended any of the Art X performances, don’t worry, there’s still time, the festival runs until April 26. Events include dance, literary, musical and theatrical performances, along with film screenings, visual arts, installations and workshops, tons of things to do! We’re seeing Britney Stoney in “Save Yourself” an original musical on stage at the Garden Theater on Woodward. Built in 1912, designed by that genius of theater architecture, C Howard Crane (Fox, Fillmore, to name a couple), the building sat vacant for a long time. The current owner has worked wonders and brought this entire block on Woodward back to life, it is a pleasure to take in a show in this building. House lights are down and the show is in progress, the main floor is crowded so we locate the stairs and make ourselves comfortable in the balcony. From here we look out across the large space, walls are a combination of exposed brick and plaster. They saved as much of the ornate plaster as they could, creating an interesting urban feel; the chandeliers look as if they could be original. The actors on stage sing and dance, the star of the show, Britney Stoney, was born and raised in Detroit, she’s a singer, songwriter and guitarist who got her start at local open mics, she’s wonderful. 

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At the end of the performance we leave the building in search of dinner. As we drive around midtown we notice people sitting at picnic tables, drinking beer in front of Jolly Pumpkin‘s new location on W Canfield. Only in its second day of operation we thought we’d take our chances and see if we could get in. It seems the crowd has dwindled and left several open tables, we take menus, sit at the table of our choice and begin the decision-making process. Making my way back to the counter I place our order, pick up my Furry Black India Pale Ale at the bar and set my order number on the table. We sip on our drinks and take in the large space. The open ceiling leaves the duct work exposed, floors are terrazzo, walls are covered in reclaimed pallet wood, quite attractive. Vintage glass light fixtures illuminate the room, the flat screen TV is behind the bar and unobtrusive, nice. Then there are the 32 taps………

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The Chopped Salad is delivered to our table; a mix of lettuce, salami, ceci beans, olives, peppers, mozzarella and basil dressed in a red wine vinaigrette; very good. Our Meatball pizza soon follows; charred tomato sauce, caramelized onions, olives, mozzarella, Parmesan, basil and miniature meatballs all atop a thin crust, tasty! Known for its Sour Beers, the Detroit location is Jolly Pumpkin‘s third Gastro Pub, looks like it’s already a success. 

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DETROIT: Music Hall !

3 Mar

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It isn’t often we spend a Tuesday evening out on the town, tonight is special. We have tickets to see Guitar Passions at Music Hall, we are making an evening of it starting with dinner at the Detroit Seafood Market on Randolph. We park in a lot that gives us access to both Madison and Randolph, $5 and we’re good for the night. This is the Paradise Valley district, historic buildings line the streets, old-fashioned looking street lamps light our way. Inside, people have just begun filtering in, taking a seat at the bar or high-top table. We are led across the room to a private booth, curtains are open and drawn to the sides. Floor and ceiling are warm shades of wood, funky shaped booths and small tables fill the space. Contemporary in style, the colors have warm undertones, an underwater mural covers the back wall. The menu is packed with fresh fish and seafood, we dig into warm bread as we wait for our meal to arrive. Our waiter is friendly and attentive, he arrives with our food and it looks delicious. I first try a forkful of Chef Leonardo’s famous lobster mac & cheese; piled high with toasted bread crumbs, inside it is cheesy, noodles are cooked just right with tasty chunks of lobster nestled throughout. The blackened salmon with sweet chili sauce is served with jasmine rice and sautéed vegetables. We like the seasoning on the fish, the vegetables are tender and buttery tasting. We are sharing both dishes, it makes for a great combination. Kris and I bundle ourselves up, Music Hall is right around the corner, we brave the cold and walk there.

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In 1928 Matilda Dodge Wilson opened the Wilson Theatre. She hired William Kapp of Smith, Hinchman & Grylls to design the building; it was to be used for legitimate theatre and touring Broadway productions, total cost was $1.5 million dollars. Eventually the Wilson began showing motion pictures, Gone with the Wind premiered at the The Wilson in January 1940. In the mid 1940’s the Detroit Symphony Orchestra wanted its own hall, choosing The Wilson, the name was changed to Music Hall in 1946. In 1951 a new trend was sweeping the nation, Cinerama. Detroit was a huge market back then, it was the second city in the United states to have a Cinerama, New York was first, Hollywood CA was third. Alterations were made to the building, a deeply curved wide screen was installed by Cinerama engineers, at that time the cost of a movie was 95 cents, Cinerama cost $2.80; you had reserved seating and printed programs. From 1971 to 1984 Michigan Opera Theatre used the building. In 1991 a decision was made, Music Hall would be restored to its original condition. Craftsmen and artists from all over arrived on the scene, 6 stories of scaffolding filled the auditorium, the decorative ceiling was cleaned and repainted, seats were repaired and restored, in 1995 Music Hall once again opened its doors.

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The Art Deco exterior is orange and tan brick, large stone pillars are capped with traditional theatrical masks made of terracotta. Beautiful wood and glass doors grant us entry to the foyer and box office, a second set of doors leads us to the lobby. The area is surprisingly small, light-colored stone surrounds the space, chandeliers are grand, carved figures wrap the capitols of columns, exit signs are framed in brass, a portrait of Mrs. Wilson hangs prominently. From here you can either go up into the theatre or as we do, down five steps to the Jazz Cafe. Taking a seat at a table we are afforded a wonderful view of the room; walls and ceiling are cream and yellow, elegant designs painted in red and black decorate the room, Moorish arches give visitors a view into the lobby. While other patrons are finishing their cocktails, we take the stairs to the main floor of the theatre–this is one of our favorite places to see a performance, as a matter of fact we were at that very first show when Music Hall re-opened in 1995. It is as fabulous today as it was then.

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After finding our seats Kris wanders about taking photos, I sit with my head tilted back admiring the stepped ceiling beams slathered in gold leaf and colorful designs. The grand curtain hangs elegantly across the stage, the main ceiling is a series of turquoise rectangles, the back of the house is finished in walnut panels. There is one box on each side of the stage–definitely the best seats in the house; open Moorish arches are fitted with a wrought iron railing, look closely to see the W T (Wilson Theatre), a crescent wrench is formed from the T, a tribute to Matilda’s first husband John Dodge. Pendant-like fixtures hang to the side 12 lights wide, they are stunning. The lights flash, the show is about to begin.

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Tonight we are seeing Guitar Passions, three master guitarists playing Latin, Brazilian and Jazz selections, we are very fond of this type of music. The musicians are 3-time Grammy winner Sharon Isbin, guitar virtuoso Stanley Jordan and Brazil’s leading guitarist Romero Lubambo. Throughout the evening each plays solo and in combination with the other players, each showcasing their own unique style of play, the selection of music is outstanding, the talent, awe-inspiring. In one piece, Stanley Jordan plays the guitar and the piano at the same time, really! Some pieces are intense, it appears as if the instruments have come to life, possessing the hands that play them creating melodies that cast a spell over the audience, mesmerizing all who watch and listen.  The last number brought the audience to its feet, applause was loud and lengthy, earning us an encore, awesome! 

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The Hilton Garden Inn is only a short walk away, we stop in at The Chrome Grille for a nightcap. The atmosphere is casual, lighting is low, as the name predicts chrome accents are found throughout. We join the handful of customers seated at the bar and order drinks, a Spanish Coffee for me and some sort of tasty orange cocktail for Kris. It’s a nice way to wind down after a show. We engage in conversation with a hotel guest, he asks us about Detroit and we share some of the highlights of the city. When the glasses are empty and the conversation ends we call it a night–and what a great night it was!

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Music Hall Jazz Cafe

11 Apr
 

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On Thursday of last week we headed down to Cliff Bells to catch the Moth’s Story Slam. When we arrived the place was full and there was a line stretching across the front of the building, we needed an alternate plan…..Off to Music Hall;      The Jazz Cafe at Music Hall presents live music in an intimate setting Tuesday through Friday evenings in the lounge area pictured. The room itself oozes elegance, there isn’t a place you can sit where your eyes will not wander the walls and ceilings.  Happy Hour is from 5-7pm, there are free appetizers and drink specials.  The Jazz Cafe also serves food, enjoy dinner or dessert in this lovely setting.  Music varies from evening to evening, Ben’s Friends perform on the third Thursday of each month at 7pm.

I absolutely love this building, we were there the night it reopened after the restoration back in the 90’s, Mandy Patinkin performed, what a night! We have been here many times since, I have a sentimental attachment to this place.

Originally built as the Wilson Theatre in 1928 by Matilda Dodge Wilson , (think Meadowbrook Hall), Music Hall has been an active and vital part of Detroit history.  Matilda, widow of automobile pioneer John Dodge wanted to create a place in Detroit for what she called legitimate (live) theater, and she spared no expense doing so.  The exterior is done in  Art Deco style while the interior is  Spanish Renaissance. You may notice similarities to Meadowbrook hall as it was crafted by the same artisans.