Bringing an artist as famous as Tony Bennett to Columbia was no small feat, said David White, executive director of the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts.
“Of course (Bennett’s people) wanted to know more about this little theater in the middle of nowhere,” White said. “Once we shared with them that this is a historical property receiving a $10 million makeover, and once they went online and saw some of our photos, which I think was the determining factor, they saw that this was a legitimate situation.”
Bennett, 81, will star in a black-tie gala on May 21 celebrating the grand opening of the restored Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts. The event will mark the end of an almost yearlong, $10 million restoration to return the historic theater to its old-school grandeur.
White said the day he heard Bennett agreed to come to Columbia was the same day he, in an effort to make sure someone would be able to play the gala, had to call Bennett’s staff to tell them he might have to offer the date to a different artist.
“A couple hours later, my agent called me at home and said, ‘Sit down, David. Mr. Bennett is coming to Columbia,’” White said. “I literally called up the entire staff to tell them.”
Reserved seating tickets to the grand opening gala will cost $150 to $250. The gala begins at 6:30 p.m. with champagne and hors d’oeuvres, and the concert starts at 7:30 p.m. Dessert will follow the concert, and patrons will go home with a gift to commemorate the theater’s grand reopening.
“Our building is 80 years old and is a cornerstone in downtown Columbia, and I know the community is getting ready to celebrate with us,” said Kanani May, director of public relations and marketing at the theater. “Tony Bennett celebrated his 80th year in 2006. He’s crossed so many generations, and that’s exactly what we’re trying to do with the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts.”
Frank Sinatra once called Bennett “the best singer in the business.” Over the years, Bennett has sold more than 50 million records. He garnered his earliest fame with chart-topping tunes during the ‘50s and ‘60s like “Rags to Riches,” “Because of You” and perhaps his best-known single, the double Grammy-winning “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” Bennett has played alongside current pop artists like Bono and the Dixie Chicks. His 2006 album, “Duets: An American Classic,” won a Grammy.
White said getting Bennett to play was worth the effort. “I can’t think of a more perfect artist to grace the new Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts.”