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Balboa Theatre ready to wow audiences, again

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The Balboa Theatre opens its doors to the public for the fist time in more than 20 years Friday.

The Centre City Development Corp. will host local music groups in free, preview performances of the historic venue.

All 1,300 tickets to its five preview performances have been issued, but after priority has been given to ticket holders, the theater will fill any remaining seats.

Additional performances may be scheduled, although they have not yet been added to the calendar, said Don Telford, CEO of the San Diego Theatre Organization.

"Everyone wants to see the theater," Telford said. "And with good reason, it's spectacular."

The building, which opened in 1924, originally housed vaudeville shows. It has also served as military housing during World War II and showed both Spanish-language and action films at other times throughout its history.

The city acquired it through eminent domain in 1985, and the remained untouched until October 2002 when the CCDC authorized rehabilitation.

Construction on the $26.5 million restoration project officially began in April 2005.

Changes to the original theater include structural precautions in order to make the theater safe in earthquakes and handicap accessible, fewer, larger seats and enhanced technology for lighting, rigging and sound.

David Peckinpaugh, president and CEO of the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau, said its historical significance will add to the city's heritage and overall ambiance.

"It will drive the scene in general because it is unique, and it will be complementary," Peckinpaugh said.

The theater will host a variety of performing arts companies. Its opening performance, "Hal Holbrook's Mark Twain Tonight" will be at 8 p.m. on Jan. 19.

Local performance groups, including the California Ballet, will make regular performances at the venue and Classics for Kids, a performance arts education group, and Mainly Mozart will call the Balboa Theatre home.

Companies ranging from the Vienna Boys Choir to the St. Petersburg Ballet are scheduled to perform, as well as Broadway's Betty Buckley and The New Shanghai Circus.

Todd Voorhees, vice president of public policy and communications of the Downtown San Diego Partnership, said the addition of the Balboa Theatre would boost the San Diego theater scene.

"It further enhances our cultural renaissance and will help all the theaters downtown," said Voorhees, who took a tour of the theater last week.

The refurbishments have made the theater a "show in its own right," he said.

To celebrate its opening and create its endowment, the theater hold a gala on Jan. 31. Tickets to the gala are now on sale. For information, visit sdbalboa.org.

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