Le Petit Theatre: Renovated stage icon back after 2 1/2 years in the dark

Photo by Tracie Morris Schaefer -- Founded in 1916 and in its present  location at the corner of St. Peter and Chartres streets since 1922, Le Petit Theatre has reopened after $1.5 million in renovations. Show caption
Photo by Tracie Morris Schaefer -- Founded in 1916 and in its present location at the corner of St. Peter and Chartres streets since 1922, Le Petit Theatre has reopened after $1.5 million in renovations.

LIGHTS ON!

Two and a half years after they went dark, the lights are finally back on at Le Petit Theatre. The nearly 100-year-old performance hall in the heart of the French Quarter recently announced its 2013-14 season, and show tickets go on sale Saturday.

The announcement appears to bring an end to nearly three years of squabbling among various factions over the fate of the historic venue.

Founded in 1916 and in its present location at St. Peter and Chartres streets since 1922, Le Petit canceled the second half of its 2010-11 season in December 2010 amid financial difficulties, and it has been dark ever since except for a handful of special functions.

The long-running dispute over the theater’s management came to an end when restaurateur Dickie Brennan was allowed to open a restaurant in 60 percent of the building. The theater then became the beneficiary of $1 million in renovations and both the restaurant, Tableaux, and the renovated theater officially opened earlier this month.

Le Petit will stage six productions over the coming season, including what is being termed a “lagniappe production” in July. “Love, Loss and What I Wore,” a stage play written by Nora and Delia Ephron, will open July 19 and run through July 28. Carl Walker will direct a cast of five local actresses whose lives will be told through their wardrobes.

The official season will open Sept. 5 with “Lombardi,” the life story of legendary Green Bay Packers Coach Vince Lombardi. The show closes Sept. 21 and will be followed by “Hair” (Nov. 8-23), “Golda’s Balcony (Jan. 24-Feb. 8), Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” (May 9-24) and Andrew Lloyd Weber’s “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (July 11-26).

The theater’s website and box open will sell tickets to the public beginning Saturday. The box office will remain open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays.

Season subscriptions will go on sale at that time along with single ticket sales for “Love, Loss and What I Wore.” During the regular season, individual tickets for each production will go on sale one month prior to opening night.

Over its long existence, Le Petit has staged hundreds of productions, primarily musicals and stage plays, and many local actors began their professional careers there.

Among the luminaries who polished their acting chops at Le Petit and went on to bigger and better things was New Orleans-born and -bred actor Bryan Batt.

As a member of the current board of governors who helped steer the theater through its troubled recent existence, Batt said he is relieved and happy that the show will finally go on at Le Petit.

“I think it’s fantastic. We’re all looking forward to good things to come for the theater,” he said.

Batt said the upcoming season is exciting.

“There’s something for everyone. I’m glad we’re going back to doing plays,” Batt said. “Traditionally, when I was growing up and cutting my teeth on that stage, there were two musicals and three plays. Le Petit had developed a reputation for just doing musicals, so I’m happy to see us going back to the old mix.”

Batt also noted that over the coming seasons there will be various “specials” from time to time, with tickets available to both season subscribers and the general public. These, he said, will be announced as soon as the arrangements for those productions are finalized.

Debuting on the Le Petit stage in “Gypsy” (1982), Batt has since gone on to stardom in leading roles on Broadway and on the long-running TV series “Mad Men.” In great demand for supporting roles in feature films as well, Batt said, “Le Petit ... gave me my first leading roles. That kind of stage time and exposure, you can’t buy it in acting class. It’s just immeasurable.”

Although Batt is not cast in any of the shows this season, he expects to be doing a special benefit for the theater at some point, probably a staged reading, he said. The date and time are still to be determined.