Music is coming back to Needham’s Great Hall.
Newly restored and renamed the James Hugh Powers Hall, the second-floor ballroom of Needham’s Town Hall will once again be a place for the community to gather to hear performers of the day, speakers and other programs as part of the Needham Bank Great Hall Concert Series, with the first event set to open the series on Saturday, March 24.
“Broadway, Curtain Up!” will feature selections from great Broadway productions such as “Les Misérables,” “West Side Story” and “Kiss Me Kate” and will give attendees the chance to experience the hall as it may have looked 60 years ago when the room was used as a local venue for performances by the Russian Ballet and others.
“I grew up here in Needham and I didn’t know that this was a hall,” said Michael Niden, executive director of the new nonprofit Great Hall Performance Foundation and part of the committee that lobbied to restore the hall. “This [area] was always Park and Rec. and the Planning Board. There was a hallway going down the middle and a drop ceiling. It was completely hidden.”
Led by Citizens for the Preservation of the Needham Great Hall, the campaign to have the hall restored began around 2007, Niden said.
“The idea from the beginning was to have it restored in terms of historic preservation, of building community, and of encouraging economic development downtown,” Niden said. “The idea was, how do we get 350 to 450 people downtown and get the streets bustling and the restaurants really cruising along?"
The restored James Hugh Powers Hall—named for the town’s longest-serving Town Meeting member—officially reopened to the community during Needham’s final weekend of tercentennial celebrations, as visitors toured the newly renovated building and some partygoers stayed late to dance the night away at the Needham 300 Gala.
Like the November gala, the inaugural event in the concert series on March 24 will “be a real celebration,” Niden said, with a few surprises for those who attend.
“That’s going to be a really fun night,” he said. “They’ll all be fun, but this is going to be more than just the concert.”
The 2012 season will also include performances by The Tiger Okoshi Quartet on May 12, the ensemble Orion (featuring members of the Boston Symphony and faculty from area music schools such as New England Conservatory of Music) on Sept. 22 and folk musician Tom Rush on Nov. 3.
Individuals can purchase a season ticket for all four performances for $100, or $80 for senior citizens and students with ID. Single performances cost $30 each ($25 students/seniors).
In addition, the Great Hall Performance Foundation is still looking for more sponsors to support the program and help it grow. Needham Bank was the first major sponsor to come on board and had since been joined by Briarwood Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center and others.
“Needham Bank was a leading contributor to the renovations of the hall. Now that that’s done, we are looking to partner with the committee, coming in as a naming sponsor,” said Tom O’Brien, marketing director for Needham Bank.
The series is also bringing in the local youth, with a new internship program giving Needham High School students experience working with each production, from setting the stage to collecting tickets to acting as “roadies” and carrying in equipment, Niden said.
In addition, students in the NHS Art Department submitted ideas for the concert series’ logo, and the concept designed by NHS senior Gabe Lemay—the Town Hall clock tower emitting music notes—was chosen to represent the program. Lemay was able to work with Baldwin/Clancy/Rogan Advertisting to finalize the image, which is being reproduced on materials promoting the events.
Though the 2012 season will feature four performances, eventually series organizers would like to see it expanded to around eight performances per year, Niden said.
And although this year’s performers are all of “excellent, professional quality,” Niden said, the group would like to continue growing the program, drawing in renowned performers and lecturers.
“We’d love to get a Yo-Yo Ma in,” he said.
More information about the Needham Bank Great Hall Concert Series, including details about purchasing tickets and season passes, can be found on the website, www.greathallperformance.org.