Looking back at the Schuster Center’s glamorous opening weekend in 2003

Since the curtain rose on the Benjamin and Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center, countless performances have delighted audiences.

Here’s a look back at how it all began.

Ground was broken for the Schuster Center April 22, 2000. It is built on the site of the former Rike’s department store, which opened in 1912. Vacant since Lazarus closed in the early ‘90s, the department store building at Second and Main streets was imploded in November 1999.

The $121 million performing arts center is named in honor of Dr. Benjamin Schuster and his wife, Marian, who donated $8 million to the project.

Friday, Feb. 28, 2003

The weekend got off the ground, literally, at noon Friday, with an aerial ballet by the dancers of San Francisco-based Project Bandaloop off the eastern face of the 18-story Performance Place tower, another component of the center.

Credit: Skip Peterson

Credit: Skip Peterson

Nearly 600 people paid $1,000 each to attend a festive black-tie house-warming gala in the Wintergarden of the complex. Many of the leading donors for the project attended the reception and dinner under the glass and palm trees of the Wintergarden.

Credit: Skip Peterson

Credit: Skip Peterson

Saturday, March 1, 2003

An Evening of the Stars performance at 8 p.m. christened the 2,300-seat Mead Theatre on opening night.

Names of the guest stars who were to appear in Saturday night’s performance were kept secret. Clues found by a Dayton Daily News reporter backstage revealed that CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite would serve as master of ceremonies, while singer Ray Charles, Broadway star Patti LuPone, Dayton native and “West Wing” star Allison Janney and comedian Bob Newhart were on the bill.

Opera star Roberta Peters, a National Medal of Arts recipient, said, “I am so pleased to be part of this special night. I can’t tell you what a performing arts center like this can mean to a singer.”

Allison Janney took the stage to the sounds of the “West Wing” theme music. She said, “I may be standing on the very spot where I sold vinyl handbags at Rikes,” referring to the longtime department store that once stood on the site.

The evening’s entertainment also included a five-minute monologue by comedian and television sitcom veteran Bob Newhart and a few songs from legendary performer Ray Charles.

The celebrity-studded show started with Walter Cronkite welcoming the audience, saying, “How lucky we are to be the first people to spend an evening together in this remarkable performing arts center.”

Cronkite compared the new hall’s inaugural to the Wright brothers’ accomplishment 100 years prior, “The realm of the possible changed that night (of the first manned powered flight) ... and this evening, as this new arts center takes flight, once again the realm of the possible has changed. Through art, we are never earthbound.”

The Dayton Philharmonic, Dayton Opera, Dayton Ballet, DCDC, Human Race Theatre and Rhythm in Shoes were among the hometown organizations to perform, among many other acts.

The Dayton Ballet performed the uniquely American work “Hoe-down” from choreographer Agnes De Mille’s “Rodeo,” featuring music by Aaron Copland. The Dayton Philharmonic provided the accompaniment, as it did for each local group.

Sunday, March 2, 2003

Enormous crowds braved winds, snow and freezing temperatures for a free open house, which included performances and guided tours. Visitors stood in a line wrapping around the building for almost an hour to tour the new community landmark.

According to police helping manage the crowd, between 50,000 and 75,000 people had toured the center or were still waiting to get in by 4 p.m.

Credit: Shiloh Crawford III

Credit: Shiloh Crawford III

Performers were scheduled throughout the day at various locations around the venue. Performers ranged from the Oakwood Accordion Band to the Gem City Ballet.

There were a few snags. A dancer with Grupo Caribe, a Caribbean folklore act, fell off the stage and into the orchestra pit of the Mead Theatre during a performance and had to be taken to the hospital.

After touring the Schuster and hearing a performance in the Mead Theatre, visitor Carole Hansberry of Trotwood said the Schuster sounds even better than it looks. “It looks terrific, but the sound is fantastic,” she said. “I’ve got Phantom (of the Opera) tickets and I can’t wait to come back.”

The Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Neal Gittleman, would present its first concerts starting the following weekend. The program included Beethoven’s “The Consecration of the House,” a tradition for orchestras when moving into new halls.

The Dayton Opera presented “Aida” later in the month.