Focus, Arts & Entertainment, and Travel & Tourism

DeVos Hall to receive upgrades to attract big Broadway shows

$300K in improvements will allow venue to host bigger shows for longer periods.

July 25, 2014
| By Pat Evans |
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The touring company for “Once” will be coming to Grand Rapids soon. Courtesy Broadway Grand Rapids/Joan Marcus

Downtown Grand Rapids is set to become a bigger magnet to tourism.

At least, that’s what Broadway Grand Rapids Executive Director Mike Lloyd is calling the recently announced improvements to DeVos Performance Hall.

The nearly $300,000 worth of improvements won’t be cosmetically visible, but will allow for big Broadway shows to stop in Grand Rapids and stay for two weeks — something that hasn’t been possible in the past. 

For shows to stay in town for more than a week, the audience needs to come from more than just the Ottawa-Kent area.

“Economically, it’s a huge boost. It brings traffic to the restaurants and hotels and helps Experience GR attract conventions — it’s a big leap forward,” Lloyd said. “It’s getting this place to be a magnet to get people to the center of your community.”

The first such show Broadway Grand Rapids will bring to DeVos will be Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera” in May 2016. The musical will have 16 performances. 

Construction likely will take place next summer when the performance space is relatively unused.

Lloyd equated the attraction of large stage productions to that of ArtPrize: a way to bring people downtown. He said it’s another step in the right direction for Grand Rapids to become a major destination and will help a variety of businesses in the downtown area.

The attraction of large-scale productions also will help Experience Grand Rapids market the city to a larger variety of groups.

“Scheduling of popular world-class shows in DeVos Performance Hall further enhances the attraction of Grand Rapids as a visitor destination,” said Janet Korn, senior vice president of Experience Grand Rapids. 

“It also enhances Experience Grand Rapids’ ability to market to the group tour market, as their planning cycles are typically longer than 12 months.”

The changes are simple, Lloyd said, and include a reinforced stage, a bigger backstage entrance, and removing the chandelier from the performance area. Some shows, such as “Wicked,” have scenes where an actor flies through the air, and the chandelier prevented such scenes. Last year, the scene from “Mary Poppins” where Poppins flies off into the crowd had to be omitted because of the obstruction.

With the improvements, other large shows such as “The Lion King,” “Wicked” and “Aladdin” will be able to be performed at DeVos. 

Michigan hasn’t been completely without those large-scale Broadway productions, however, as Kalamazoo’s Miller Auditorium and East Lansing’s Wharton Center both have made the investment to accommodate the larger shows and attract statewide audiences.

Both Wharton and Miller sit in the middle of college campuses — Michigan State University and Western Michigan University, respectively — that are relatively devoid of other entertainment options in the immediate surroundings, Lloyd said. With DeVos Performance Hall, visitors can grab dinner prior to the show and drinks afterward within a minute’s walk, he said.

“We are a bigger market than those two,” Lloyd said. “When you look at the universities, I don’t know how many students are going to the shows.”

DeVos Hall opened in 1980 and holds about 2,400 people, but the upgrades necessary to enable bigger Broadway shows somehow never materialized here as they did elsewhere, Lloyd said. The recent vote for the improvements was approved unanimously, without any real objections, he said.

Concert industry magazine Pollstar released its mid-year charts for ticket sales in July. The charts measure the number of tickets sold from Jan. 1 to June 30. Both DeVos Performance Hall and Van Andel Arena made the charts for their respective size categories.

DeVos Performance Hall ranked 56th in ticket sales among U.S. theater venues, with 43,543 tickets sold. Shows such as a Bryan Adams concert and LaughFest shows with headliners Lily Tomlin and Mike Birbiglia highlighted the first half of the year. American singer/songwriter Beck kicked off the hall’s second half last weekend.

Van Andel Arena placed 32nd among arenas in the United States with 78,366 tickets sold, including shows such as Bruno Mars and Jason Aldean. The second half of the year will see tours by performers Michael Buble, Katy Perry, The Eagles, Cher, The Black Keys and Eric Church.

“We are committed to bringing a diverse lineup of quality entertainment to West Michigan,” said Richard MacKeigan, SMG’s regional general manager for Van Andel Arena and DeVos Place. “It is gratifying to appear next to some of the greatest venues in the world, and the community is a big reason why we continue to have success as we look forward to another great second half of the year.”

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