The star of the show at the Emery Theatre Friday night was the Emery Theatre.
Nonprofit arts company the Requiem Project opened the doors to the shuttered Over-the-Rhine theater for a preview performance in what it hopes is a step toward returning the Emery to operation.
A sellout crowd of 742 filled the floor seats. Neither of the theater’s two balconies was open.
The show that unfolded on the Emery stage featured an eclectic mix of classical music, dance performances and folk-rock from Cincinnati veterans Over The Rhine. Over The Rhine’s Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist were joined by Nicholas Radina on percussion and Jason Goforth on lap steel for 13 songs spread over two sets.
Before the show, Detweiler talked about hosting the band’s annual holiday show at the Emery from 1994 to 1997.
“I’m a history lover, so I love all the stories that are connected to this space, and I have a lot of personal history here. It was the first theater we ever headlined, and that was a big deal to us,” he said.
The evening was emceed by Drew Lachey of 98 Degrees and “Dancing with the Stars” fame. He told the crowd that the Emery, which opened a century ago in 1911, is one of three acoustically perfect theaters, the other two being Carnegie Hall in New York and Symphony Hall in Boston.
“Me, personally, I think that’s something worth saving, don’t you?” he asked the crowd.
Lachey introduced the Requiem Project’s Tina Manchise and Tara Lindsey Gordon. “We’ve worked on this theater for the past three years, and we’ve never seen people in the seats, so it’s a very special evening for us,” said Gordon.
It seems as though the two have a common taste in high art, and that’s their vision for the Emery. Over The Rhine occasionally shared the stage with members of Exhale Dance Tribe, who performed choreographed routines based on OTR’s lyrics. Local musician Peter Adams played violin on top of a prerecorded music track, while Samantha Pille and David Donnelly, trainees with the Cincinnati Ballet, danced. Chamber ensemble Concert:nova performed a piece by minimalist composer Arvo Part as a video screen showed a collage of clouds transforming against a blue sky.
This wasn’t Joe Walsh playing “Funk #49” at the Taft Theatre, for better or worse.
There were additional performances and exhibitions offstage throughout the building. The backstage area was open before the show. There, in one room, was a performance piece in which four people with painted faces traded lines while moving affectedly across the floor. A fifth person sat in the corner and played violin.
“The world doesn’t make sense,” said one.
“So why should I make art that makes sense?” responded another.
Also backstage, local artist Joseph Winterhalter had his show, consisting of four canvas paintings, on display. In the Requiem Project’s mission statement, the visual arts would have a place at the Emery alongside music, film and dance, and Winterhalter sees that potential.
“Given the nature of the upstairs with the former rehearsal studios, there’s great potential for it. It could easily integrate with the other programming taking place,” he said. “But it’s going to take a lot of work by somebody whose primary vision is related to the visual arts rather than the performing arts.”