With Jesse Auditorium available once again, University Concert Series plans for bigger shows

With Jesse Auditorium back online, University Concert Series is able to present larger productions such as the Broadway mega-hit "Once."

With Jesse Auditorium back online, University Concert Series is able to present larger productions such as the Broadway mega-hit “Once.”

It’s an adage often repeated in show business: The show must go on. And for the University Concert Series, the shows are finally going on at Jesse Auditorium.

For the past two years, Jesse Auditorium was unavailable to UCS because construction equipment used for a project at nearby Swallow Hall obstructed Jesse Auditorium’s loading zone, meaning touring acts couldn’t load and unload their sets. The Swallow Hall project wrapped up last spring, and Jesse Auditorium is back online.

UCS has two main venues: Jesse Auditorium and Missouri Theatre, which also serves as the UCS box office. Jesse Auditorium boasts a larger seating capacity than Missouri Theatre — a big plus when booking popular acts such as John Mellencamp — but UCS Director John Murray said it’s really the stage size that makes a difference in a venue’s ability to accommodate certain shows.

The stage in Jesse Auditorium is 52 feet and 10 inches wide and has a height of 20 feet. The stage in Missouri Theatre, by comparison, is 35 feet and 8 inches with a height of 23 feet and 1 inch. Missouri Theatre’s comparatively small size meant full-scale Broadway productions weren’t going to work, so UCS focused on booking smaller, more intimate shows during that period of time.

In some instances, a production with full orchestra or large cast simply won’t fit on a smaller stage. But many times, it’s the set itself that proves problematic. Many touring shows use super structures comprising not only the sets but also pre-configured lighting and amplification. These structures save the crew a considerable amount of time on set-up and tear-down, but they demand ample space.

“Something like ‘Once’ is pretty much self-contained. We fully strip the stage and they come in as if the building had nothing,” Murray explained.

“Once” will be the first Broadway musical staged in Jesse Auditorium since it became available to UCS. Other upcoming shows that will make use of Jesse Auditorium’s larger stage include The Price is Right LIVE!, Mannheim Steamroller and St. Louis Symphony.

Murray points out that Jesse Auditorium still is small compared with some other venues. Some acts are able to alter their sets and the number of performers involved to make it work. For example, the Blue Man Group was able to scale back during its 2013 stop in Columbia, which was part of an arena tour. Murray said this isn’t uncommon and adds that if you were to see a show in Jesse Auditorium and then follow it to Kansas City’s Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, it’s possible you’d see a very different show.

As for the shows you’ll see in Columbia, Murray said the variety afforded by having two venues is a boon to the community.

“It plays such a vital role in the quality of life for people in Columbia,” Murray said.



7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 6

Jesse Auditorium




Story by Caroline Dohack