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Workmen have started rebuilding the interior of Northrop Auditorium.

Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

Withering Glance: Wrecking ball inside Northrop

  • Article by: RICK NELSON and CLAUDE PECK
  • Star Tribune
  • January 9, 2012 - 9:05 AM

CP: You'd never know from the outside that this old song-and-dance barn is all torn up inside.

RN: Right? I did the gay gasp as we got our first glimpse at the vast, gutted-to-the-rafters interior here at Northrop Memorial Auditorium. This is a Demolition with a capital D.

CP: Where Giselle once spun, a giant wrecking crane is turning the air gray with diesel exhaust. I feel faint.

RN: When U of M Provost Tom Sullivan described this renovation as "transformative," he wasn't exaggerating. By the way, is it wrong that the minute I spied his natty maroon-and-gold repp tie, I wanted one just like it?

CP: No wronger than it is of me to guess you already have a few of them hanging on your tie rack at home.

RN: Having twice graduated on Northrop's stage, I was happy to learn how the U is converting much of the building's square footage into academic and social uses. Northrop always has been a campus dead zone, and this $80 million-plus reboot should change that. Still, what I really care about is the theater.

CP: The promise is that by shrinking the house, and reducing the seats from nearly 5,000 to about 2,600, we all will be sitting much closer to the stage.

RN: Some U bureaucrat tossed out the factoid that 83 percent of all seats in the revamped horseshoe-shaped hall will land within 100 feet of the action. Excellent.

CP: Hell's bells, I may be able to leave my lorgnette at home.

RN: For a venue with acoustics so lousy that a famous conductor once quipped that "dynamite" was the only solution, its high-tech replacement should be a marked improvement. Who knows? Maybe they'll can the canned music and actually make use of the orchestra pit.

CP: I hope they fix the rake. At the old Northrop, it was so shallow that your view could be obscured by a 5-foot-7 person sitting in front of you. Wisely, they preserved the building's "Rocky"-like facade.

RN: After the State Capitol, it's the state's most-recognized edifice, according to U brass. Who knew?

CP: Yes, Gopher Rain Man, they also are preserving its historic lobby. That means it may retain the chilly, hemmed-in feeling of yore.

RN: Time will tell. Now that I've seen the building's exciting potential, my imagination is flying to nuevo Northrop's first dance season, in 2014. All Balanchine, perhaps?

CP: Natch, with stops by Miami, San Francisco and New York City ballet companies. I'd welcome a speedy return by the inestimable Paul Taylor.

RN: Same here. Stravinsky wrote a fantastic anthem to inaugurate the New York State Theater, aka the House of Balanchine, when it opened in 1964. Perhaps Northrop could enlist the U's own Pulitzer-winning composer Dominick Argento to pen a similar door-opening piece.

CP: There you go again, with ideas that sizzle.

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