NEW ORLEANS (AP) — For the third time in less than a decade, the Saenger Theatre has became a symbol of New Orleans’ resiliency and rebirth as the storied Canal Street venue once again threw open its doors following a prolonged closure.
The roughly 2,600-seat theater hosted comedian Sebastian Maniscalco for two shows Thursday night — its first performances since before the pandemic shut down much of New Orleans and the world in 2020.
When Maniscalco took the stage, some vestiges of the past year remained. Customers were encouraged to use mobile ticketing and credit cards for concessions, for example. There were sanitizing stations around the theater, and behind the scenes, a new air filtration system was used. And perhaps a little disconcerting for comedians who thrive on audience reaction, social media posts from the theater warned that masks would be required for all patrons inside.
Nevertheless, the reopening was a welcomed development for theater management.
“It’s almost — almost — as exciting as when we reopened in September of 2013 following our closure from Katrina,” general manager David Skinner told WWL television.
Thursday marked the iconic theater’s third reopening of the 21st century. The first was in 2013, when it awoke from a long slumber caused by Hurricane Katrina.
The second came less than two years ago, when the theater was forced to close by the collapse of the under-construction Hard Rock Hotel across Rampart Street. The December 2019 reopening lasted only three months, until coronavirus restrictions darkened it again.
That history fuels the theater’s position as a symbol of New Orleans’ ability to get up off the mat, said Lauren Cason of New Orleans and Co., the convention and tourism promoter.
“It’s a key staple in our community,” she said. “Having it open and having great shows is great for our local economy and our spirit.”
Getting the Saenger up and running again with regular shows will help revive the area along Canal Street where it sits, she said.
“An early dinner and a show at the theater is something a lot of people do, and sometimes they stay the night,” she said.
After Maniscalco, the theater plans to host violinist and singer Lindsey Stirling later this month, comedian George Lopez in August and musicians Cody Jinks, Primus, Counting Crows and Earth, Wind & Fire in September.
The Saenger, built in 1927, was heavily damaged by Katrina in 2005. When it reopened eight years later, after a $52 million renovation, it was touted as another sign that New Orleans would rebound from disaster.
Then in October 2019 the catastrophic collapse of the Hard Rock Hotel closed the theater again while workers and officials worked to make the area safe. It reopened in December 2019, hosting illusionist Criss Angel, before the pandemic arrived.