FAIRFIELD, Conn.—Opera luminaries graced the stage at the newly opened Sacred Heart University Community Theatre as people gathered to celebrate the birthdays and legacies of Fairfield’s own Al and Alida Kleban.
“A Celebration of Al & Alida Kleban,” hosted by the couple’s daughter and son-in-law, Betsy and Rick Rathe, honored the couple whose vision has transformed Fairfield center and helped make SHU’s reopening of the iconic theater a reality.
The private spring soirée—attended by friends, family and dignitaries—featured a program by international opera artists Isabel Leonard, Allegra De Vita and William Burden, who were among the first live performers in the freshly imagined theatre space. Leonard, a multiple Grammy-winning mezzo-soprano who performs at The Metropolitan Opera and other venues around the world, presented selections from Bizet and Offenbach. She also joined Burden for familiar melodies from “The Sound of Music” and “Carousel.”
Mezzo-soprano De Vita, a SHU alumna from Trumbull who has performed at the Austin Opera, the Boston Midsummer Opera and Festival dei Due Mondi (Festival of the Two Worlds) in Spoleto, Italy, offered works from Handel and Rossini. Burden, a tenor who treated Fairfield audience to works by Bernstein and Donizetti, has performed at The Metropolitan and San Francisco operas and Teatro alla Scala in Milan, Italy.
All three led the audience in a rousing chorus of “Happy Birthday” for the Klebans. Marie Muhvic, president of the SHU Community Theatre Foundation, praised the couple for joining with the University to preserve the century-old theatre.
In May 2019, SHU partnered with Kleban Properties and the Town of Fairfield to renovate and reopen this crown jewel in the heart of downtown. Over the past year, skilled craftsmen have renovated the former vaudeville theatre and movie, from the expanded stage and proscenium arch to the modern balcony and VIP skybox.
“The Klebans could have turned this space into a chain coffee shop or department store,” Muhvic told the evening’s guests. “Sacred Heart University could have said, ‘We already have a theatre on campus and don’t need to commit to this project.’ Yet both did something that nobody else had done in over a decade. They invested a sizeable amount of resources into purchase, restoration and renovation of the space.”
Plans for the new, 400-seat SHU Community Theatre include a full slate of events in the theatre as COVID-19 restrictions lift and streaming on the theatre’s website, www.shucommunitytheatre.org. Additionally, there will be rental opportunities and academic and youth endeavors in the coming year. Exclusive series will present the Fairfield Film Festival, popular stand-up shows with the Connecticut Comedy Festival and a summer outdoor movie series in partnership with the Fairfield Museum and History Center. Dance and musical performances, children’s afterschool and camp options, live lectures, book talks, master classes and Actor’s Studio-style evenings with leading Broadway performers are in the works.
The theatre’s official public opening will be in September.
PHOTO CAPTION: A special gala celebration in honor of Al and Alida Kleban took place at the Sacred Heart University Community Theatre on June 3, 2021. From left are Betsy Rathe, John Arida, Allegra De Vita, Al and Alida Kleban, William Burden, Isabel Leonard and Rick Rathe. Photo by Timothy Burke Mannle Download photos here
About Sacred Heart University
As the second-largest independent Catholic university in New England, and one of the fastest-growing in the U.S., Sacred Heart University is a national leader in shaping higher education for the 21st century. SHU offers more than 80 undergraduate, graduate, doctoral and certificate programs on its Fairfield, Conn., campus. Sacred Heart also has satellites in Connecticut, Luxembourg and Ireland and offers online programs. More than 9,000 students attend the University’s nine colleges and schools: Arts & Sciences; Communication, Media & the Arts; Social Work; Computer Science & Engineering; Health Professions; the Isabelle Farrington College of Education; the Jack Welch College of Business & Technology; the Dr. Susan L. Davis, R.N., & Richard J. Henley College of Nursing; and St. Vincent’s College. Sacred Heart stands out from other Catholic institutions as it was established and led by laity. The contemporary Catholic university is rooted in the rich Catholic intellectual tradition and the liberal arts, and at the same time cultivates students to be forward thinkers who enact change—in their own lives, professions and in their communities. The Princeton Review includes SHU in its Best 386 Colleges–2021 Edition, “Best in the Northeast” and Best Business Schools–2021 Edition. Sacred Heart is home to the award-winning, NPR-affiliated radio station, WSHU, a Division I athletics program and an impressive performing arts program that includes choir, band, dance and theatre. www.sacredheart.edu
About SHU Community Theatre
First opened as a vaudeville house in 1920, Sacred Heart University Community Theatre is a 400-seat cinema and performance space located at 1420 Post Road at the bustling corner of Unquowa and Post roads in Fairfield, Connecticut. In May 2019, Sacred Heart University and Kleban Properties partnered to renovate and reopen the long-shuttered community theatre as a contemporary arts and education venue and nonprofit. The theatre is home to a unique blend of film, live concerts and performances, lectures, youth programs and academic endeavors. For tickets and more information, visit www.shucommunitytheatre.org.