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Davis Theatre plans a wide variety of shows

To know the splendor of the renovated Roy and Sue Davis Theatre, begin a tour in the star's bathroom.

Note the monogrammed shower curtain reading “Cabarrus Arts Council,” the row of Aveda bath and hair products donated by a local salon, the cloud-bed of fluffy cotton towels atop a sideboard of hardwood and wrought iron (bought for $40 on Craigslist).

That's the theme here: classy atmosphere, careful spending. This room and all other parts of the theater, which opened with a new gloss in September, have been part of a $400,000 renovation at the corner of Union and Means streets.

The arts council moved into its new home there in 2005, getting a 20-year lease from Cabarrus County for $1 a year. The brick courthouse, built in 1876 after two others burned, was empty except for the ghost – thought to be a judge – who reportedly haunts an elevator.

One year later, the CAC set out to create nonprofit arts galleries downstairs, improve the theater upstairs and add related support space on the third floor, then a rickety attic.

The council raised the money in a year, buoyed by an initial gift of more than $100,000 from The Cannon Foundation and a later one of $100,000 by the Davises. (He's chairman emeritus of S&D Coffee, which sells to restaurants and hotels.)

And when the Davis opened this fall with the revue “100 Years of Broadway,” Cabarrus County finally had a venue that could accommodate a sophisticated touring production.

In the early 1980s, the Old Courthouse Theatre did plays there before moving to its new home on Spring Street. Luckily, the arts council was able to retain the 231 seats, the carpet, even the paint on most walls.

Noelle Rhodes Scott, executive director of the council, says the major expenses were an up-to-date light and sound booth, stage lighting, improvements to the attic, a hanging projector for films, and reflective paint that turned the back wall of the stage into a movie screen that can be concealed.

“We worked carefully with lighting and sound designers,” says Scott. “We didn't want any performers to tell us they could not come because our equipment wasn't good enough.”

Sara Heiser, who was already running the educational component that brings arts to 30,000 schoolkids, stepped up as theater manager. The first season began with “100 Years”; it goes on to a radio-play version of “It's a Wonderful Life” next Saturday, jazz-blues singer Kellylee Evans Feb. 12, a cappella hipsters Chapter 6 on March 17 and comedienne/folk singer Christine Lavin on May 9.

Heiser will select acts via auditions and reports from the N.C. Presenters Consortium, which helps area promoters cooperate. She wants to catch artists on the way up, before they're unaffordable or need bigger venues, and she plans to piggyback onto longer tours. (There will be no resident company in the Davis.)

“The thing we learned over the last year is to dream big,” she says. “We never thought we could bring a performance as big as ‘100 Years.' We had another opening night planned, until one member of a couple was cast in a Broadway show.

“Our friend Sheila Martin at Dunn Center for the Performing Arts in Rocky Mount said she was bringing ‘100 Years' in on the 13th, and it was going to be in Clemson on the 15th and 16th. Because there was one little open date on their schedule, it worked out like kismet – and we got them for (much less than) they had asked for.”