Downside Story 

SLC needs more than a theater

I’ve been out of town for nearly a week, doing some business and some pleasure in Chicago and Milwaukee—two cities that are about as different from Salt Lake City as can be. Well, after New Orleans, anyway. Despite the time away, and despite that I’m now on Gogo Wi-Fi somewhere over South Dakota, I’ve promised City Weekly Editor Jerre Wroble a column for this week’s issue. It’s not that easy in cramped seats and 1,000 miles from your editor, I assure you. Luckily, I have the good fortune of having an editor sitting next to me in seat 11E. So far, he’s caught three typos and four punctuation errors.

See that comma up above, after the word “luckily”? Yep, it wasn’t there originally, but seat 11E pointed out I needed one. So, comma, now there’s a comma in the right spot, period. It’s great to finally sit next to someone on an airplane who isn’t either spitting up or trying to elbow me into the next county but who instead is making an effort to make me a better grammarian. Ain’t gonna, happen. I’ve been misusing the English language my entire life, and I’m not going to get better at it now. How I ever got into the newspaper business with such an aversion to proper English doesn’t speak well of me, I know, but it does speak to how anyone in America can do just about anything.

For example, I just learned that the guy who operated on a good friend of mine’s left knee is really a ventriloquist. Somehow he got a medical degree, and my buddy is still limping like Festus.

Another problem with writing after being away is that I have nearly no idea of what’s going on back home, outside of BYU signing that Hinds kid to play football for them. Here’s what I think about that—nothing. Big deal. So what?

And I guess there’s still some question as to whether Salt Lake City needs a new theater downtown. Ostensibly, we need one because a city cannot be classified as a real, important, major city without certain things like professional-sports franchises, enough sustainable customers to allow a good life for cab drivers, quality arts and concert facilities and theaters capable of seating most of the residents of Herriman all at one time. Could be. I don’t really know.

I do know I like Broadway shows, though. It’s argued that we don’t get the really good shows until late in the game or minus certain special effects, since our matronly Capitol Theater isn’t up to snuff. Maybe so, but I’ve seen Annie there a half-dozen times, and it looked fine to me. I don’t know that Wicked or Oklahoma could have been better in a new theater. The most recent capper is that if we don’t build a new theater, we natives who have lived without it our entire lives won’t have the chance to see The Book of Mormon onstage for another decade. Ain’t that a shame? I mean, isn’t that a shame? Thanks, 11E.

I am not against a new theater. Not at all. This past week, I saw West Side Story in Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theater (the guy playing Tony was lousy; Anita stole the show). I saw Shrek there in 2010 (the guy playing Shrek was great; Shrek’s wife was great). It’s a beautiful theater with roomy, comfy seats. Comparatively, our Capitol Theater has nothing to be ashamed about, other than seating around 500 fewer people. But there were probably 500 empty seats Friday in Chicago. And that’s despite the advantage of having 7 million people living within an hour’s drive.

It may have been an off night, and you might know the play itself hasn’t exactly gotten raves. Not to mention the Cubs were playing, Lollapalooza was taking place a few blocks away, other theaters were open, the streets were hopping and the bars and restaurants were full. Each of those certainly siphons of potential theatergoers. In Utah, it remains rational to wonder if a large theater could fill up at the same time a Utah Jazz game is taking place. I don’t wonder; I think it could. Why? Because there’s not much else to do in Salt Lake City, that’s why. And that’s the rub.

If Salt Lake City wants to be considered a major metropolitan city, it has to be able to become one. And it never will so long as the Utah Legislature continues to punish the restaurant and club industries with archaic laws written by religious zealots. Great cities like Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., offer their residents and visitors something more than a theater or Jazz ticket. There is a vibe in those cities that Salt Lake City can never match. Utahns go to events and go home. A meager few go early for dinner, and fewer stay late for a cocktail. Great cities build a great energy, combining nightlife with theater or sports. In Salt Lake City, the experience just doesn’t exist.

Here, it’s like the difference between watching the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Cubs. The commercial district around the Cubs’ Wrigley Field buzzes for hours before and after a game. For the White Sox, people just cram on and off their trains, leaving that rather empty district few dollars.

If Salt Lake City really needs this theater as its newest star, it also needs a better supporting caste. I mean, cast, or it will be just one more sterile building in an increasingly flummoxed city that is increasingly difficult to do business in. Thanks, 11E—now go see if Mr. Becker can use a hand, too. 

Twitter: @JohnSaltas

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