Seinfeld does the honors as Saenger Theatre stages comeback

Unlike most of the shows that Jerry Seinfeld performs, his Friday night appearance at the Saenger Theatre wasn’t all about him. The stand-up comic and TV superstar’s name topped the Saenger’s marquee, but he wasn’t necessarily the main attraction.

The Saenger Theatre, like much of New Orleans, suffered ruin in August 2005. Hurricane Katrina’s wind ripped the classic Canal Street theater’s roof. Water invaded its interior.

Eight years later, the theater staged a comeback. Stars shine again in the restored Saenger, from the venue’s stage and its starlit ceiling.

Originally opened in 1927 as a movie palace, the Saenger’s ornate interior, modeled after Italian Renaissance courtyards and gardens, is sumptuous again. The $52 million restoration includes state-of-the-art technical upgrades. In many ways, the theater now is the best performance space it has ever been.

Inside the Saenger Friday, Seinfeld show-goers snapped cellphone photos of the crowded lobby’s chandeliers as well as the theater’s stage and luxurious red curtain. Outside they photographed the Saenger’s resurrected marquee.

Across the street, the Joy Theater, which reopened in 2011, used its marquee to greet the returning neighbor: “Welcome Back Saenger Theatre.”

Seinfeld’s pre-show opening acts included Mayor Mitch Landrieu. “This is the finest theater in America,” Landrieu proclaimed.

The other star of the show, Seinfeld, dashed onto the stage at 7:20 p.m., turned to the audience and struck a funny-faced pose.

“Oh, my God, New Orleans,” the comic said. “Welcome back to the new Saenger Theatre. We’re back in business.”

A sincere opening remark, quickly followed by, “Holy cow. That didn’t take too long!”

Seinfeld, the star of “Seinfeld,” the 11-season sitcom about a New York comedian named Jerry and his likewise neurotic friends, quickly launched into an extended riff about the many worrisome preparations and conflicts that people attending his Saenger show had put themselves through to be there. These included “leaving the house in a state of marriage.”

Even if Seinfeld isn’t on first-run television anymore, he was definitely on on the Saenger stage. The 59-year-old comic moved fluently through many topics, most of them about things that irritate the heck out of him. Following the example of the great Rodney Dangerfield, Seinfeld knows that suffering is funny, especially if someone else does the suffering.

Like Dangerfield circa 1967 on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” Seinfeld — in his dark suit, tie and white shirt — had the classic stand-up look. Dangerfield’s anger and hostility also showed up in Seinfeld’s comedy, but the usually cool Seinfeld is less prone to breaking into a sweat than the late, often at the end of his rope, Dangerfield did.

Technology was another of Seinfeld’s targets. Losing a cellphone, he said, is like having your space-station companions cut you loose while you’re out for a space walk. And Seinfeld is not a Twitter fan. Birds invented tweeting, he said, but now that humans have Twitter, they, too, like birds, can litter the Earth with droppings.

“Why spend a lot of your time talking to a few people,” the comic reasoned, “when you can say nothing to a lot of people?”

By the way, Seinfeld has 2.1 million Twitter followers. He is following 47 tweeters. He has sent 880 tweets.

Seinfeld’s hour-plus performance included a quick encore featuring a question-and-answer session. Asked by one audience member if he has favorite “Seinfeld” episodes, he quipped, “I like the ones I’m in.”

Acknowledging the night’s special occasion a second time, the comic also said, “I’m so happy the theater is back and the city is back.”