The Show Must Go On

 In Culture, Interviews

After being shuttered for 21 years, the curtain rises at Peabody Opera House once again


Originally built as a civic center in 1934, the historic Kiel Auditorium and Opera House has hosted renowned acts like The Rat Pack, Louis Armstrong, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. It hurt everyones hearts when the beloved opera house closed its doors 21 years ago (and a portion was knocked down to make room for the Scottrade Center), which makes it all the sweeter to see it reopen now to a new life as Peabody Opera House.

The long-overdue renovation was announced last summer by Dave Checketts of SCP Worldwide, the owner of the St. Louis Blues, the Scottrade Center and the opera housein partnership with developers Chris and Joe McKee (sons of the prominent St. Louis developer Paul McKee). $78.7 million later, the opera houses architecture has been restored to its 1930s splendor, from the signature bear sculptures out front to the polished marble columns in the grand lobby and meticulously handpainted ceiling tiles in the VIP room. John Urban, Senior VP of SCP Worldwide, is charged with booking events for both Peabody Opera House and the Scottrade Center, with a little help on the opera house side from Director of Booking Darren Hall. Together, theyve wasted no time lining up a lively debut season.

The star-studded grand opening gala on Oct. 1 brings to town the likes of Aretha Franklin and Jay Leno for “An Encore 77 Years in the Making.” A few days later, indie rockers Wilco (with roots in Belleville, IL) take the stage, followed that weekend by a visit from Roger Daltrey (lead singer of The Who) performing the rock opera “Tommy.” The holiday season will bring in a family performance of “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” and the Moscow Ballets “Nutcracker,” and spring promises such Broadway performances as Green Days “American Idiot,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Mary Poppins.”

“Very clear to all of us as we began working on the project was a tangible sense of what this place means to the community,” Urban says. “Everyone has an emotional connection to it; everyone has stories to share.”

The Peabody seats approximately 3,000 people, nestling between The Pageants 2,000-person capacity and Fox Theatres 5,000. Urban envisions the venue fitting nicely into the existing performing arts scene, hosting a diverse mix of performances-from musical acts too big or too formal for The Pageants club setting to stage shows needing a space more intimate than The Fox.

Part of the renovation involved updating the majestic venues fixtures to meet modern standards, both behind-the-scenes and front-of-house. State-of-theart sound and lighting systems have been installed to meet the needs and expectations of visiting artists, along with larger dressing rooms and rehearsal spaces. For guests comfort, the seats are a few inches wider now, and there are box seats and VIP lounges available for the luxuriously inclined.

Among the elements that remain largely unaltered: Kiel Club, one of the original bar spaces, remains open to the public, with full food and drink service provided by Levy Restaurants. Encore Theater is the only remaining small performance space of the original four, which were formerly used for community productions and events. Now, Encore will play host to anything from weddings and business events to smaller performances like poetry readings. The hope is that this will help keep the venues roots in civic service alive, and solidify its place in the hearts of a new generation of St. Louisans.

Perhaps the largest role the opera house is expected to take on, though, is aiding in the citys ongoing efforts to revitalize Downtown. Mayor Slay has hailed The Peabodys reopening as a transformation “from eyesore to asset,” and said that the restoration of such a “prominent, beautiful building” is a key step in bringing Downtown back to life.

For more information about upcoming shows at Peabody Opera House, visit



The Peabody Opera House lobby

The Peabody Opera House lobby


The Peabody Opera House seating area


The Peabody Opera House main stage

The Peabody Opera House main stage


Photo credit: Photos By Ben Reider

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