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Pontiac's Strand Theatre ready to re-open with sneak preview

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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Amidst the cacophony of hammers and drills and the drone of hydraulic lifts, Bill Lee contemplates the progress of the new Flagstar Strand Theatre in downtown Pontiac as its first event looms this week.

"It's always a fire drill, right to the end," says Lee, the Strand's president and CEO. "I've never been at any venue where it was any different."

Just the activity around the Strand, much less an actual program on the horizon -- and with more in the offing for the new year -- is a big deal. The theater has been dormant since the mid-90s, when it was mostly the home to a live stage production of "The Brady Bunch," and myriad false starts have made it seem like it was gone forever.

But on Thursday, Dec. 15, the Strand kicks back into life with a Sneak Preview that will feature a pre-glow with strolling dinner as well as performances by the Ice Beat Factory, a PazMan Supersession helmed by local blues impresario Mark Pasman, the Michael Ramo World Jazz Quartet featuring Ralphe Armstrong and violinist Sonia Lee. And that will be just the beginning; the Strand has nearly a dozen events confirmed by domestic and international touring acts, some already for early 2018, and Lee predicts the 900-seat venue can be busy "five or six nights a week" with all genres of music, comedy, theater, dance and more.

"There isn't another place like this in the metro area," says Lee, pointing out that with a population of 2.3 million people living within 20 minutes of the Strand. "We're big enough we can still get the sexy, national touring artist. We're going to book an eclectic array of artists and create an experience of seeing a show so that people will say, 'It's at the Strand? Let's go.'"

The metro area, of course, has no shortage of performance venues of varying sizes, from small clubs to stadiums. But Josh Newman of the promotion firm Live Nation says there's always room for another -- if it's good.

"There certainly are times when you can utilize a space like that," Newman notes. "There probably is a little bit of a void right where their sweet spot's going to be, both in terms of location and size. There are definitely some things we would look at putting in there."

Lee is hoping the "experience" of seeing a show at the Strand will be the primary selling point for both audience and artists. In addition to deluxe seats in the main auditorium, the site also features a couple of bar areas and hang-out spaces, in addition to a Slow's Barbeque that will be next door and attached to the theater on Saginaw Street. The lobby will feature a customized donor wall, as well as art exhibits that will rotate at regular intervals.

A second-level screening room will host matinees for senior citizens as well as other programs, and valet parking will be offered for most events.

"We want people to come and stay," Lee explains. "We want to bring the social aspect back of going to a show. It always amazes me when you go to a larger arena and there's X amount of people there for the same thing, and no one talks to each other. At a size like this, we want to have a place where people will come early for something to eat or a drink, and stick around after the show and not feel like they have to rush out to beat the crowd."

And even though it's been a couple of decades since Pontiac was a hub of broad-based nightlife, Lee is confident it won't take long to reaclimate an audience to the benefits of the area, including 21,00 parking spots with a two-minute walk of the Strand and more bars and restaurants slated to open nearby.

"I think when people come and see it, they'll get used to coming to the Strand," Lee says. "It's something we're confident will sell itself once we get people to come that first time."

Flagstar Strand Theatre Sneak preview, featuring the Ice Beat Factory, a PazMan Supersession, the Michael Ramo World Jazz Quartet featuring Ralphe Armstrong and Sonia Lee.

Thursday, Dec. 15.

12 N. Saginaw St., Pontiac.

5:30 p.m. Gold Circle Pre-Glow tickets are $200.

7:30 p.m. concert tickets are $75 and $50.

Proceeds benefit the Encore Performing Arts Center, which manages the theater.

Call 248-221-5238 or visit flagstarstrandtheatrepontiac.com.

Web Site: www.flagstarstrandtheatrepontiac.com

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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