Mills Fleming Op Ed: A standing ovation for the performing arts in Savannah

March 20, 2015

By Mills Fleming, as published in Savannah Morning News

The performance of two Puccini operas at the Lucas Theatre this weekend marks a tour de force showcasing world-class artistic talent — and a triumph for Savannah that is every bit as momentous.

As former board chair, I have seen the Lucas Theatre progress from a forgotten gem on the brink of demolition to what it is today: a centerpiece for the arts that shines as a light of community collaboration.

Not too long ago, such a triumph was nothing more than a dream held by a dedicated group of individuals who had a vision of the Lucas as not only an important building to preserve but also a hub for the performing arts.

This weekend’s staging of Puccini’s operas brings together three of Savannah artistic icons for the first time: the Savannah Music Festival, the Savannah VOICE Festival, and the Savannah Philharmonic. The opera is the perfect showcase for extraordinary talents as well as for the stage that brings them together.

The Lucas we cherish today is the product of a $14 million restoration effort and the time and dedication of countless individuals. My involvement dates back to 1995 when the Lucas board had already been hard at work for nearly a decade. But my personal history with the Theatre actually stretches even further — back to 1921, when my great-grandfather Arthur Lucas built the playhouse. Of the 40 theaters he established across the Southeast, this was the only one to bear his name.

I like to think he was aware that there was something special about the Lucas — it’s something that Savannahians and the many outstanding talents who grace the Lucas stage experience every time they enter the iconic building.

As the Lucas curtain rises on Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi, we’ll celebrate works of a master composer, the incredible artists who bring them to life, and the vision of a community that cared. The Lucas Theatre is a unique cultural asset we have preserved against all odds, together.

On Friday, let’s give a standing ovation for the performers, for the organizers who made this event possible, for the many Savannahians who have worked to preserve the Lucas Theatre and who patronize it, and for the future of the arts in Savannah.

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