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Night of firsts at new Tower Theater

September 25, 2010 : Mitzi Bible

Confetti fell from above and streamers burst out into the audience as Liberty University celebrated its first performance in the new Tower Theater Friday night.

It was also the first time a college theater department has performed the Broadway musical Hairspray and the first time it was performed in Central Virginia.

“This is a very special night for us. It is the beginning of a new adventure, the beginning of new events, the beginning of many lives being changed on this stage and in the audience,” said Linda Nell Cooper, chair of Liberty’s Theatre Arts Department.

 A reception was held in the Tilley Student Center.

The night began with a special reception for guests in the Tilley Student Center, followed by comments by Cooper and Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr. and a ribbon cutting on the stage by Cooper, Falwell; Dr. Ron Godwin, vice chancellor; Dr. Boyd Rist, provost; Charles Spence, project manager; and Charles Piper of BCWH Architects.

Hairspray is set in 1962 Baltimore, where teenager Tracy Turnblad dreams of being on a live television broadcast where she can dance and sing her way to the top.

Just over a year ago, the theater only existed as plans on paper and the space it now occupies was used for storage. But Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr. saw an opportunity to make better use of the space, and soon he was taking Liberty’s Theatre Arts Department to the top — literally. The space already had an 85-foot tall tower, which proved perfect for the complex fly tower and rigging system needed in Broadway-style performances.

The project broke ground in October 2009.

Students rehearse for the first time Tuesday night in the new Tower Theater.

Theater students no longer have to work under cramped conditions in a renovated lecture hall that seats 250. The new theater seats 640. Friday night’s performance drew a full crowd.

Cooper said when she went backstage at intermission, her students told her, “Mrs. Cooper, we can’t believe what that applause sounds like on that stage.”

Of the 152 theater majors at Liberty, 75 are involved in the production.

Senior Sarah Seaman, who plays Turnblad, said the first performance was one of the best moments of her life.

“The energy was high, everybody was excited. … It’s an honor to be the first on the stage,” she said.

Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr. said the students did a “phenomenal job.” “The theater adds a lot to it, but their talent is just off the charts. I was very impressed.”

Hairspray was the perfect show to kick off the season, Cooper said. In the playbill she writes: “My desire for this inaugural show is for it to be a celebration; a celebration of where we once were and where we are now, a celebration of our past and our future, a celebration of our students and their desire to follow God’s leading in their life and in their art.”

Falwell said there is no doubt the new Tower Theater will take Liberty University drama to a new level.

“Our motto has always been, if it is Christian, it should be better. Now Liberty has a theater that lives up to the motto.”

  • To see a schedule of the 2010-11 theater season, and for ticket information, go to the Theatre Arts webpage.