Former patrons who wrote off attending another concert or theatrical production at the Toyota Center in Kennewick because they couldn't see, couldn't hear or both will want to give the new arrangement a try.
Seating, stage and acoustics in the new Windermere Theater are much better than the old accommodations.
It's true the new setup has significantly fewer seats, but they are oh, so much better.
Previous attempts to convert the Toyota Center into a performance hall never successfully camouflaged the facility's essential nature -- vintage hockey rink.
Never miss a local story.
That's great for hockey but not for musical theater.
At the risk of sounding highbrow, we'd describe the new arrangement as intimate.
That may sound unbelievable to anyone who struggled to see the stage from the far rows of folding chairs during past productions, but it's true.
When configured for in-the-round seating, the hockey arena accommaodates 7,715 people. The new theater set holds just over 2,000.
What the venue loses in quantity, though, is more than made up for in quality.
Instead of sitting on hard plastic chairs and craning their necks sideways for two hours to see a distant stage on the west end of the arena, showgoers now sit in comfortable, plush theater chairs near a large stage.
Much of the improvement comes by aligning the seats along the narrowest part of the arena, so patrons face what's normally the players' bench.
In the old setup, seats were arranged crosswise, faced down the full length of the ice, toward the Zamboni entrance. The venue felt more barnlike than intimate.
And the sound? The improvement in acoustics is no less remarkable that the new seating.
Performer Kenny G, who has seen his fair share of venues around the world, told Wednesday night's sellout crowd that the place sounded pretty good.
We think so too.
With the help of a more than $500,000 grant from the city of Kennewick, the center recently installed a new rigging system and is working on further improvements that allow the center to double as a venue for sporting events and stage shows.
The rigging system, which cost about $250,000, makes it easier to change the stage configuration for different uses.
Windermere's participation in the project is no surprise. The real estate company is a longtime supporter of Mid-Columbia community events and charities.
The new stage gives performers 3,200 square feet of room.
It makes the hockey rink/football arena/basketball court/banquet room/concert hall that much more versatile.
Not every show will be presented in the new theater setup, though. For example, December's Larry, the Cable Guy show will use the stage-in-the-end zone setup.
(Actually Larry probably doesn't mind the old setup. He's not really one of those "cultured types" -- you know?)
Of course, when a show does appear on the Windermere Theater, fewer seats means events are more likely to sell out.
The Broadway And More series has season tickets ranging from $110 to $225 available for the four remaining shows. Single tickets are not on sale yet.
If you wait, you may well lose out.
Fewer seats. Better seating. The Windermere Theater is a good move.
If you've been less than satisfied with your seats in the past, give the new setup a chance.