On January 5, 2016, The Birmingham Sunrise Rotary Club kicked off the new year with a preview of the newly-renovated, and soon-to-be-opened Lyric Performing Arts Theatre.
Lyric Performing Arts Theatre, Opera Booths - Rotary Offsite MeetingTo say that club members were "wowed" would be an understatement. The space has been truly transformed from an entombed Roaring Twenties Vaudeville theatre, walled in and forgotten, to a theatre space worthy of Broadway.
Two years ago, we had an offsite meeting at the Lyric. The day was a memorable one for many reasons, not the least of which – we would all struggle to make it home that afternoon as the winter storm that came to be known as "Snowmageddon" set in. The visit to the theatre that day was cold, but enlightening, as we encountered the space mid-renovation.
If the visit in 2014 was enlightening, the visit this year was utterly mind-blowing. Thanks to the hard work of Stewart Perry, the General Contractor, the space had transformed from a see-your-breath cold construction zone to a world-class theatrical space. Glenny Brock, founder of the Friends of The Lyric Theatre and an instrumental catalyst in making the renovation happen, addressed us on both occasions. This year, she did so with a big grin on her face – a grin many years in the making. 
After a brief rundown of the history with some notable highlights (who knew that the Marx Brothers, Milton Berle, and Mae West had once graced this very stage in our fair city?) Glenny took us through the renovation to date. We learned that the stunning opera boxes had been removed in the '50s to make way for a wide movie screen, that the space had originally been a vaudeville space, that towards the end of its earlier incarnation it had been an "art movie" house (that's what they used to call X-rated movies). She took us through some of the challenges Stewart Perry faced, such as upgrading electricity and HVAC to code in a structure that was built so long ago. She explained how the tiny orchestra pit had been sacrificed in order to solve bigger problems. She pointed out various structural elements such as the long- free-standing balcony that runs the width of the building, and the fine detail work involved in restoring the various artistic qualities. She pointed out that the Lyric was built around the notion of the Greek muses and that consequently the feeling of the space was much more feminine than the Alabama Theater.
Detail of artwork over the Lyric Theatre proscenium.
There are no appropriate words that share how truly remarkable this space is. Mouths stood agape as we marveled at the tremendous job being done in restoring this gem that now resides in the crown of Birmingham. We learned that, in order to replace detailed plaster mouldings that had been destroyed over the years, Stewart Perry actually set up a casting facility on site. Friezes and stencils were created from old photographs to help in the restoration and replication of art work. For example, we took in the glorious transom that tops the proscenium – a Greek-revival portrayal of the muses – which had been painstakingly restored.
As we stood on the expansive apron; (this was clearly a stage built for live performance), each of us, in our own way, were reminded at how far Birmingham has come in a few short years as we reclaim our rich history and create spaces that cities orders of magnitude larger would be proud to call their own.