Minnesota Attractions

Minnesota Ordway Theater

Ordway Theater is the Performing Arts "Jewel of the Mississippi”

Minnesota ordway The Ordway Music Theatre located at 345 Washington Street, was designed by a native St. Paul architect Benjamin Thompson and it has been a focal point of the city since its opening on January 8th, 1985.

It received great acclaim which made the news and got a front page feature in a Time Magazine issue which called it the “Jewel of the Mississippi”.

Ordway Theater became a premier performing art center in downtown St. Paul as envisioned by its financier, 3M’s heiress Sally Irvine, whose middle name is Ordway which is where the theater gets its name. "She was the kind of person who wouldn't accept anything that wasn't audacious," Slade said. "She wanted something that would be flashy and interesting to go to, but also designed by theatrical professionals so it would work." The building was supposed to cost around $22 million to build, but that didn’t happen, it actually cost around $45 million by the time it was completed.

The theater was designed to have great acoustics and a large foyer where an audience could be comfortable before, during and after a show. It is laid out like a European opera house with a main theatre and a 300 seat McKnight theatre. A full week of concerts was planned for the opening.

This theatre is the home of the St Paul’s Chamber Orchestra, the Minnesota Opera and Schubert Club. Many other theatrical performances and dances take place here including many of Broadway’s touring groups and companies.

Broadway shows are potential big money makers for a theater, but in the '80s and '90s, there was close to open warfare with agencies booking the shows in Minneapolis over who should get the choice picks. There was internal wrangling too between the Ordway management tenants as to who should have scheduling priority.

Visitors of the theater’s 25th anniversary celebration this year will be able to see renderings of the next Ordway project, a new custom built concert hall for the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO) on the current site of the McKnight Theater. The new facility will give the Ordway more programming flexibility. President and CEO Patricia Mitchell said there is no timeline at present because of the economy, but fundraising is going forward. Mitchell said every year some 50,000 school children attend performances at the Ordway during the day in addition to the evening audiences.

As the Ordway moves into its second quarter century, she hopes for more of the same. The SPCO's Chuck Ullery said the hall retains its charm, but it's the audiences who continue to lift the performers to greater heights.

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