ORLANDO — There are plenty of changes going on at the Bob Carr Theater.
Some of the changes are cosmetic, particularly to the interior. Other changes have to do with the mix of talent being booked there, which is increasingly diverse.
At the same time, the theater at 401 W. Livingston St. in downtown Orlando is remaining true to its longtime patrons, particularly those who have spent years watching performances in the Bob Carr auditorium by the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra.
For decades, Bob Carr Theater was one of the premiere performing arts auditoriums in Orlando, with seating for 2,518. It was first built as a center for live shows in 1926, when the Orlando Municipal Auditorium was constructed. It was extensively renovated between 1975 and 1977, and renamed after former Orlando Mayor Bob Carr. Additional renovations were done in 1991.
In recent years, it has undergone some more changes, although not in terms of construction. For years, Bob Carr Theater was the home for the Broadway in Orlando tours, bringing to the city major Broadway productions like “Wicked,” “Evita,” “Jersey Boys,” “War Horse,” and many others.
Then history was made in May 2014, when the cast of the touring Broadway show “Ghost The Musical” gave their final bow on stage, thus ending years of Broadway productions at the Bob Carr. After that, the touring Broadway shows were transferred to the new Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, which also took over operations of the Bob Carr Theater from the city of Orlando in September 2014.
Even so, Bob Carr Theater’s auditorium has remained the home to the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra.
Bob Carr Theater has undergone numerous interior renovations over the summer months, with the inside walls being repainted in a light shade of grey. The work continues today, as the aging blue carpeting is being torn up and removed and will be replaced by a new grey carpeting throughout the building. The carpeting will cover the existing brick flooring.
Bob Carr has also opened the fall with a diverse menu of acts, which have included the “Brave Enough” tour by violinist Lindsey Stirling, who also creates choreographed violin performances shown in music videos on her YouTube channel; “Magic Men Live!,” an erotic male dancer review based partly on the Channing Tatum movie Magic Mike; and the heavy metal band Puscifer.
At the same time, Bob Carr auditorium has continued to host morning performances by the OPO, done for children in schools in Orange and Seminole counties, shows that end with a rousing version of “The William Tell Overture” that often has the students stomping their feet with excitement in the theater.
Bob Carr Theater will continue to host annual favorites in the coming weeks, including the OPO’s traditional “Home For The Holidays” seasonal concert on Saturday, Nov. 26 at 2 and 8 p.m., and the traditional Handel’s Messiah free concert, with the main performance by the Messiah Choral Society being held on Sunday, Nov. 27 at 3 p.m., with doors opening at 2:15 p.m. This is Orlando’s longest running free cultural performance.
As a performing arts center, the long-term future of Bob Carr Theater looks increasingly secure, even at a time of rapid development within the downtown neighborhood of Orlando. On Aug. 3, Orlando’s Historic Preservation Board voted to grant Landmark Status to Bob Carr Theater, going against rumors that the building might get torn down to make way for the projected Creative Village project there.
The area immediately surrounding Bob Carr Theater is also undergoing major changes as well. A new $60 million school designed to serve the Parramore neighborhood for preschoolers through middle school broke ground last spring. Williams Company started construction at 701 W. Livingston St., and the work is expected to be completed by June 2017, in time for the start of the 2017 school year.
The University of Central Florida is expected to open a new downtown campus in that area, at the site of the former Amway Arena. It is expected to open in either 2018 or 2019.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com..