Arts & Life

Big Easy's Historic Mahalia Jackson Theater Opens

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New Orleans has had a rebirth as the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts reopened more than three years after Hurricane Katrina. The 2,100-seat theater is home to the city's symphony, ballet and opera. City officials hope it's the first of many more public venues to reopen this year.


In New Orleans, a rebirth.

(Soundbite of song "Down to New Orleans")

THE PRESERVATION HALL JAZZ BAND: (Singing) Let's fly down or drive down To New Orleans. That city, so pretty, Historic scene...

BLOCK: The Preservation Hall Jazz Band helped reopen the Mahalia Jackson Theater last night. The 2100-seat venue is the home of the city's symphony, ballet and opera.


The building was shuttered after Hurricane Katrina. It lost its roof and was flooded by 14 feet of water. The electrical wiring was wrecked; the carpeting and upholstery covered in mud and mold. More than three years and $27 million later, it's a lift for a community still struggling.

Ms. JUDY JEWEL (Resident, Slidell, Louisiana): I think it's kind of a feel good-thing for the city in New Orleans.

NORRIS: Judy Jewel(ph) of Slidell first attended the theater after it originally opened 35 years ago. She says it looks about the same as it did back then.

BLOCK: Jewel was among the people admiring the new Mardi Gras-inspired interior, gold stage curtain and purple seats. What they couldn't see? New electrical wiring and plumbing and new hydraulics beneath the stage. Rosario Beasley(ph) moved to New Orleans after Katrina. She's pleased to see the restoration of the theater and its surrounding Louis Armstrong Park.

Ms. ROSARIO BEASLEY (Resident, New Orleans, Louisiana): When we came here, it was just really dirty and you know, you can tell the storm had torn it up. And we would, you know, walk over there on the other side and listen to the bands every other Sunday. So, to see this renovation take place, it just makes us know that New Orleans is thriving and back. And I love that. I love that.

NORRIS: New Orleans has yet to draw back all of its tourist trade, and officials hope the Mahalia Jackson Theater as a big venue might just help.

(Soundbite of song "Down by the Riverside")

THE PRESERVATION HALL JAZZ BAND: (Singing) I'm gonna lay down my burden Way down by, down by the riverside. I'm gonna lay down my burden Way down by the riverside. Ain't going to stand...

NORRIS: Home Depot ends its sponsorship of athletes chasing Olympic gold. We'll talk with one of the athletes next on All Things Considered.

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