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Old Posted Oct 3, 2006, 8:03 PM
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Miami: Performing Arts Center opens

The stage is set for center's debut
After five years of construction, the Carnival Center prepared for its first paid performance.

BY DANIEL CHANG
dchang@MiamiHerald.com

A touch of spackle here. A patch of carpet there. Plenty of floor wax and furniture polish.

Five years after construction crews broke ground on the mammoth Carnival Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, workers labored into the night Monday preparing the Sanford & Dolores Ziff Ballet Opera House for its first paid performance -- today's opening of the Broadway musical, The Light in the Piazza.

Like an anxious host anticipating the arrival of elegant company, Jesus Vazquez, the man presiding over construction of the Carnival Center, ticked off a list of chores to be tackled.

''We're doing a lot of final clean up, trying to make the building as ready as possible,'' Vazquez said, ``buffing and waxing floors, vacuuming carpets, cleaning all the curtains, wiping down the millwork, making sure all the stage equipment is running correctly for the performance.''

Vazquez said finishing touches on the $446.3 million center will continue through November as contractors complete a list of tasks, such as sanding down scratches, repairing wallpaper and patching up holes.

''The majority of the work has already been accomplished,'' Vazquez said. ``We're just fine tuning.''

FINISHING TOUCHES

While workers put the finishing touches on the Carnival Center, production crews unloaded four 18-wheelers containing elaborate sets of mid-20th century Florence, Italy -- the setting for the Tony Award-winning musical about an American woman who finds love in bella Italia.

Susie Krajsa, executive vice president of Broadway Across America, which is presenting The Light in the Piazza, said the Carnival Center compares favorably with other performance venues in the country.

''It's state-of-the-art, top notch,'' said Krajsa, who is also a member of the Carnival Center Trust, the volunteer board that oversees the center's operations.

Krajsa said subscription sales have ''gone very well and we have more than doubled what our subscription base was prior to moving into the new Carnival Center,'' though she declined to say precisely how many subscriptions have been sold.

The first of five productions in the Broadway Across America-Miami subscription season, The Light in the Piazza runs through Sunday; tickets range from $20 to $69.

The Broadway show is a pre-opening to the Carnival Center and its three venues -- the 2,200-seat John S. and James L. Knight Concert Hall, the 2,400-seat Ziff Ballet Opera House, and the 200-seat Studio Theater.

The official grand opening takes place Oct. 5-8 and features a free public party, concerts, theatrical, ballet and opera performances, a black-tie gala and other events.

Carnival Center staff have been stretched thin preparing for the opening and the season thereafter, Gail Eaton, chief marketing officer, said.

''We're exhausted, but we're excited,'' Eaton said.

LOTS OF CALLS

She spent much of her day fielding phone calls from anxious patrons who wanted tickets, arranging marketing campaigns for future shows, and signing off on content about upcoming shows for the 21 plasma screens in the lobbies of the center's two halls.

Eaton said the box office's 27 phone lines, all of them manned, were busy for much of the day selling tickets to The Light in the Piazza but mostly answering patron questions such as where to park, how to get there and what to wear.

As many anticipate their first experience at the Carnival Center, though, others will look back fondly.

WAXING NOSTALGIC

Vazquez, the construction chief, waxed nostalgic about the project he has overseen since December 2000 for the partnership of builders contracted to erect the center: Odebrecht Construction, The Haskell Co., and Ellis-Don Corp.

''It's very sentimental,'' he said. ``There's a history behind every crack and crevice in the building, and you start to reminisce about that.''



Architect: Cesar Pelli
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