I just came back from a weekend in San Francisco where I saw two musicals, Pippin at SHN Golden Gate Theatre, and Motown, The Musical at SHN Orpheum Theatre. Pippin was great, Motown was spectacular. The only modern-music musical that I’ve seen that surpassed it was Beautiful, the Carole King biography, also at SHN.
Many though not all of these national traveling shows come to Sacramento, most often hosted California Musical Theatre’s Broadway Sacramento at the Sacramento Community Center Theater, which has the tagline of “superb acoustics, unobstructed views,” though some are also hosted at California Musical Theatre’s Music Circus at the Wells Fargo Pavilion. Most of these come through for only a week or two, rather than the five to eight weeks they play in the bay area, and many never come.
So why do I go to San Francisco? Well, let me say up front that I go in part because I love San Francisco, I’m happy when I’m there, I do a lot of things including going to the ocean, to museums, to listen to Irish music, to visit friends, to ride my bike, to eat good bread (Arizmendi and Acme), and I could go on for pages.
But the main reason I go is that I can hear the musicals, and the plays. I don’t think I missed a single word or line in either Pippin or Motown. The sound is crisp and clear. It is loud enough without being too loud. In contrast, Sacramento Community Center Theater sucks. The sound is muddy. I often miss key dialog. In order to overcome the acoustic weakness of the hall, the sound gets cranked up way over the capabilities of the sound system. I have attended several plays and musicals that were so painfully loud I thought of just walking out. In fact, two of the professional community theatres in Sacramento, Capital Stage and B Street Theatre mainstage have considerably better sound quality than the Sacramento Community Center Theater. Maybe the comparison in unfair, as these are small theatres, but when I can pay $32 for a ticket and hear great sound in a small intimate venue with sufficient bathroom capacity, why would I want to pay $43 to $95 (and higher for the popular shows such as Wicked) for muddy sound, in a huge impersonal venue with insufficient bathroom capacity?
In the San Francisco theatres, sight lines are good too. From my seat in the balcony, about two feet of the top of the SHN Golden Gate stage was cut off. I remember seeing Wicked in Sacramento, and more than a third of the stage was cut off from my seat. I missed a lot of action that happened at the edges and top of the stage. And I was in one of the more expensive seats, the Grand Tier rather than the Second Tier. I wonder if people in the Second Tier could even see the stage.
SNH Golden Gate Theatre was built in 1922 and refurbished in 1979, and seats up to 2200. SHN Opheum Theatre was built in 1929 and restored in 1998, and seats 700. Sacramento Community Center Theatre was built in 1974 and seats 2,398, which is larger than any of the theatres in San Francisco. You would think that would allow them to sell lower priced tickets, but the ticket prices are the same or higher.
The concrete bunker that is the Sacramento Community Center Theater will never have good sound, no matter how much is spent on renovation. The only solution is to tear it down and start over. I’m sure the convention center would like to expand into that area. There are a number of empty or developable lots around downtown. In fact the city owns a number of potential locations. Or at least did, until they gave away the properties to the Kings.
tear down the Sacramento Community Center Theater
and give us a new great place to see musicals, plays, and other cultural performances.