Paramount debut: Goldsboro puts on top hat and tails to celebrate theater's encore
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on February 17, 2008 2:08 AM
All the big names were on Center Street Friday night.
They showed up in style -- decked out in tuxedos, evening gowns, fur coats, chandelier earrings and cufflinks.
As they entered the doors of the Paramount Theatre they helped build, most stood for a moment on the red-carpeted entryway.
After taking in the lobby, their eyes followed the staircase to the balcony.
It was then that their minds slipped back to days of movie tickets and stolen kisses.
Each had a story to tell, a reason they wrote a check to Goldsboro businessman David Weil's Paramount Foundation.
And after nearly three years of waiting, there it was -- back in all her glory.
Just as Weil vowed it would be.
So when the spotlight hit his face a few moments after the opening number, those in the audience rose out of their chairs and honored the champion of the theater reconstruction effort.
And he was humbled.
"A theater is really only a building. It's only a tool," Weil said. "A theater is only as good as the performances that happen there."
Maybe that is why he kept the story of how the new Paramount came to be relatively short.
He didn't want to steal the show.
That is just his way.
"Let me simply say, 'All of you are greatly appreciated,'" he said. "This truly is an historic event."
It was an evening that saw local legends take the stage one by one -- many with their own Paramount stories to spare.
National Public Radio's Carl Kasell was one of them.
Playing the part of "audition co-director" along with fellow master of ceremonies Geoff Hulse during the gala, the Goldsboro native told the audience about paying nine cents to see movies at the old theater long before it burned.
"The Paramount Theatre is very much etched in my memory ... I saw a lot of movies right up there," he said, pointing to the balcony. "So I cried when I heard the old one burned down. But you know, it's like a phoenix rising from the ashes."
Al King feels the same way.
Goldsboro's mayor was there the morning fire took down decades of memories.
So when Weil handed him the key to the new theater, it was emotional.
"On behalf of a grateful city, I proudly accept what you have done," King said, turning to Weil. "Without this man, yes, we would have rebuilt this theater one day. But not on this day."
More stars would take the stage -- the entire cast of StageStruck's production of "Oklahoma!"; Whit Baldwin, once a StageStruck star and now a professional performer; Jeremy Thompson, reknown-ed pianist and now a music director at a local church; William Stone, an opera singer and music professor; ballroom dancers Robertas Maleckis and Inga Sirkaite; and the Encore singers from Center Stage.
But someone was missing.
So in between acts, Kasell took the time to honor Johnny Grant, Hollywood's honorary mayor and Goldsboro's favorite son, who died Jan. 10 at age 84.
"You know Johnny, he was full of energy, full of life, and he is missed," he said. "But Johnny would have been the first to remind us that the show must go on."
Hollywood actress and Broadway star Anne Jeffreys, the gala's headliner, said she felt her friend was there with her.
"Shortly before he died, I said, 'Johnny, are you coming to Goldsboro?' He said, 'Honey, I'll be there,'" Miss Jeffreys said. "So I know his spirit is here."
Her performance was something -- a number from Broadway's "Phantom of the Opera" and a few others.
Maybe she shown so bright because she "felt at home."
"I have such memories here," Miss Jeffreys said. "The Paramount, it was heaven."
You could tell there was no place else she would rather be.
You saw it in the way she kissed friends on the cheek, posed for photographs and met with fans and longtime admirers after the show.
But the truth is, everyone on hand was exactly where they wanted to be.
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