Since opening its doors in 1940, Bridgeport’s 1,450-seat Klein Memorial Auditorium has been providing entertainment and information, as well as serving as a community gathering place for the region. On Saturday, Nov. 14, the Klein will celebrate its 75th Anniversary with a show, The Klein@75, featuring its resident performing arts companies and hosted by musician and band director Paul Shaffer.
“The Klein’s mission is to enrich, educate and entertain through arts and ideas, and this show does all of that,” says Laurence A. Caso, the Klein’s executive director. “Our host is one of the greatest entertainers of all times and has played with such a wide body of today’s musicians. In addition to his 33 years with David Letterman, he is a composer, the musical director and producer of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s induction ceremonies, a studio musician. He has a great knowledge of music and emceeing — he’s a great, warm host.”
Looking ahead to the gig, Paul Shaffer said, “Our evening will feature the best from the Klein’s 75 years as Bridgeport’s premier cultural institution. The entertainment will be stellar — so much so that I may have to sit down at the piano and dash off something myself! I can’t wait!”
“The concert on 14th will be a joyous event, a family celebration,” says Caso. “Some dignitaries will be guest presenters, there will be some brief speeches about the Klein and its history, to share with the audience what the Klein has been and will continue to be. And it should be noted that the Klein is a regional facility — members of our resident performing arts companies represent 26 different towns.”
Taking the stage during the celebration will be the Greater Bridgeport Symphony (which has performed at the Klein for the past 70 years), New England Ballet, Fairfield County Children’s Choir, Greater Bridgeport Youth Orchestras, student singers and dancers from the ASK (After School Kids) program as well as from All Stars Project of Bridgeport, and noted jazz musician Joel Martin, creator of Jazzical and the Klein’s annual Footsteps of Peace concerts. Each company will perform its own segment, notes Caso, “then all will come together in a spectacular musical finale.”
There will be also be appearances by Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch; George Mintz, president of the Bridgeport chapter of the NAACP; Kathleen Maher, executive director of the Barnum Museum; a segment about Fairfield Theatre Company, which has presented more than 100 concerts at the Klein in recent years; and representatives from the Barnum Festival.
The concert will begin at 8 pm and tickets are priced at $75, $40, $25 and $15. They can be purchased at the Klein’s box office, 910 Fairfield Avenue, Bridgeport, online at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling 800-424-0160.
The Klein Memorial Auditorium was built on land and with funds for a performing arts center donated to the City of Bridgeport in the will of Jacob Klein, a local attorney and active supporter of Bridgeport community organizations who died in 1932. He also left a trust to support its operation. The auditorium was designed in the Art Deco style by local architect Leonard Asheim, and features bronze doors, a marble lobby, inlaid wood and geometric motifs.
Since opening its doors in 1940, the Klein has played host to programs ranging from symphonies and operas to theater, folk, blues, rock and reggae concerts, as well as local dance recitals, political debates and high school graduations. It currently hosts naturalization ceremonies once a year. While it has been more active at some times than others, it has been in continuous operation since opening.
As part of Klein’s will it was stipulated that although the city owns the building, operation and management must be done by an outside agency, said Caso, a 40-year television veteran and Emmy Award-winning producer who joined the Klein’s board in 2010 and became the facility’s executive director about a year ago. The Fairfield Theatre Company had been running the operation for many years, but in 2010, the theater was occupied only 65 days.
In 2011, he said, the board decided to form the Klein Memorial Auditorium Foundation and take back the management. “One of the first initiatives was the launch of ASK — After School Kids, which provides tuition-free music, drama dance and acting for the camera instruction for 100 kids ages 6 to 10; in 2015, the theater will see 250 days of activity.”
The Klein is one of only seven Broadway-size theaters remaining in Connecticut, Caso points out, and is currently serving 60,000 patrons a year. “It is a pleasure to share in the wonderful role of the Klein, how it has enriched the cultural life of so many people. I constantly meet people who tell me of experiences here during their childhoods and adolescences, how they were exposed to the ballet or symphony or something else here. We want to build on that and are open to different ideas.”
One example is the Footsteps of Peace concerts created by Joel Martin, original concerts that tell the story of a story of hero or world leader; the most recent concert was a tribute to Nelson Mandela. Another will take place next May when Loretta Swit, best known for her role of Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan on MASH, presents Eleanor, a one-person show on Eleanor Roosevelt — who herself spoke on the Klein’s stage in 1953.
In addition to the The Klein@75 concert, upcoming shows include Wynton Marsalis and The Lincoln Center Jazz Ensemble, presented by Fairfield Theatre Company, this evening, Thursday, Nov. 5; Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the Mendelssohn Choir, performed by the Greater Bridgeport Symphony, Dec. 12; and the 34th Annual Nutcracker Performances by New England Ballet Company, Dec. 19 and 20. For more information, visit theklein.org.