The Colonial Theater will host its first show in 53 years in downtown Augusta

AUGUSTA – The first paid public performance in more than five decades at the Colonial Theater, long vacant and undergoing renovations, takes place on Friday evening.

Local native Kent Axell, who works as a magician and mentalist in Las Vegas and elsewhere, will perform his mind-reading act at the theater, which has been temporarily set up with 300 seats for the performance.

For the first time since Dean Martin, Elke Sommer and Sharon Tate appeared in the film “The Wrecking Crew” on screen at the Colonial Theater in 1969, paying patrons will catch a performance at the theater at 139 Water St., so even that it is in the middle of a major renovation project to bring it back to life.

“This is the first paid performance in 53 years,” Kathi Wall, the theater’s executive director, said of Axell’s performance. “This is an important step. I think that says, more than that, we are on our way to becoming a more functional venue for arts and entertainment in the Augusta area. We can get out of this. And we will get a little closer to the capital which will have its own place of art and culture.

Rayno Boivin, left, and Brian Monk connect seating sections Thursday at the Colonial Theater at 139 Water Street in downtown Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Axell grew up in Manchester, then studied acting in New York and now performs as a magician and mentalist in shows in Las Vegas and on the road. Axell said he was honored to be part of the theater’s renaissance by performing in its first paid public show since it closed more than half a century ago.

“I’m so honored and so excited to be a part of this – it’s truly amazing,” he said. “I was in the theatre. It’s so beautiful. It’s nice. It’s been pretty dilapidated over the past few years, but it’s really been patched up. You can’t produce “Grease” in there right now, but you can definitely do a mind-reading show.

Wall said that with the theater in its current state, public safety codes allow it to accommodate up to 300 people for the show. When the theater is fully restored, the plan is to have seating and a capacity of 1,000 spectators.

Its temporary seating includes 200 seats donated by Kennebec Valley Community College, which is redoing its auditorium and planning to install new seating. Peachey Builders of Augusta installed the seats at historic theater.

Wall said the donated seats were in good condition.

The Kennebec Savings Bank provided another 100 temporary and mobile seats for Friday night’s performance.

Tickets are $25 and sell out fast. Thursday afternoon, there were only three tickets left, according to the website where you can buy ticketsthe event is expected to raise approximately $7,500 to help fund the ongoing efforts to renovate and expand the theatre, which was originally built in 1912 then replaced by the existing building in 1926.

The Colonial first showed silent films and had an orchestra pit in front of the stage. At some point the stage was extended above the orchestra pit and a sound system capable of playing audio for films was added shortly after World War I.

Friday night’s show will feature Axell’s mind-reading act, though he’s open that he doesn’t actually read minds. He said he orchestrates situations, using principles of deception, to make it look like he can read minds.

“People who come will probably think they’ve seen a psychic — that’s the point of the show,” Axell said. “They should expect to see what it’s like to be in a room with a mind reader.”

Axell said he heard about the Colonial Theater’s restoration efforts and approached Wall and Michael Hall, a member of the theater’s board of trustees and executive director of the Augusta Downtown Alliance, to organize a paid show there for help with restoration.

“I thought about it and thought, ‘Why not? Wall said he held a show at the theater that was far from sold out. “No, we are not a finished theatre. But could we succeed, in warm weather, not in the middle of winter? Yeah. And the response has been wonderful.

Brian Monk, left, and Rayno Boivin measure and position another row of seats Thursday at the Colonial Theater at 139 Water Street in downtown Augusta. Last month, Kennebec Valley Community College donated 204 seats that were removed from an auditorium being renovated on the Fairfield campus. Those seats are placed in front of a temporary stage that will host “Lifting the Curtain with Master Mind Reader Kent Axell,” scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday. It will be the first paid performance at the theater in 53 years. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The event consists of having a cash bar and offering theater candy for purchase. Doors open at 6 p.m. and the show is scheduled to start at 7 p.m.

Fundraising for the overall projectpreviously estimated to cost around $8.5 million, is underway. Over $1 million has been raised so far. Plans include adding a new building to the side of the structure to provide space for bathrooms and improve accessibility.

the project recently received $160,000 into National Park Service historic preservation funds to restore the theater’s windows and exterior doors.

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