By Gregg Hoffmann Special to Published Nov 25, 2007 at 5:23 AM

Madison is home to a world class university, the state capitol and a beautiful setting among three lakes.

For the last several years, it also has had a world class entertainment center. The Overture Center includes eight venues, ranging from a performance hall that seats more than 2,000 to intimate galleries that allow visitors to quietly enjoy visual arts.

Currently, one of the center's venues, The Playhouse, is home to the world premiere of "Lombardi/The Only Thing," a play by Eric Simonson and produced by the Madison Repertory Theatre. It's based on Pulitzer Prize winner and Madison native David Maraniss' book, "When Pride Still Mattered," a biography of legendary Packers' coach Vince Lombardi. It runs until Dec. 2.

Over the next several weeks, performances and performers ranging from "La Boheme" to "Evita," the St. Petersburg Ballet and Arturo Sandoval to Martin Short will appear at the Center.

Madison didn't always have such a facility, especially concentrated all within a city block. Various arts organizations were scattered around town and performed and exhibited their works at a variety of venues. Still today, you can find a great deal of creativity in various venues throughout the city and on the UW campus. That very much fits the rebellious spirit of Madison, still leftover from the 1960s.

But, the Overture Center has provided a first class facility just a block or so off the Capitol square. It started in 1998, when local businessman W. Jerome Frautschi made a gift of $50 million for the development of a cultural arts district in downtown Madison. He established the Overture Foundation to "solve the space needs of the city's major arts organizations." Eleven months later, he donated another $50 million.

At the completion of phase one of construction, the announcement was made that Frautschi has spent $205 million to build this state of the art facility.

Internationally famous architect Cesar Pelli was engaged to design the project. It was a challenge to design and construct the facilities within the constraints of a city block in the center of town, but Pelli and his team pulled it off.

Overture Hall is the largest venue in the Center. The 2,251-seat performance hall is designed and constructed for exceptional acoustics and an intimate theater experience. Materials and shapes in Overture Hall were purposely manipulated to influence how sound reverberates and reflects inside the space, and control and isolate noise. As a result, the hall delivers rich, true sound throughout, reaching even to the back balcony.

The Capitol Theater is the granddad of the venues. The 1928 venue received a fresh and improved look and feel, with larger and fewer seats, improved sightlines and acoustics, and improved support spaces.

Significant historic features remain, including the Grand Barton Organ, ornate ceiling, wall niches, arches and chandelier lighting. The space has become a mid-size performance venue, providing seating for approximately 400 at the orchestra level and up to 600 in the balcony.

The Capitol Theater serves as the home of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, in addition to a number of CTM, Overture Presents, Overture OnStage, and Duck Soup Cinema performances.

Previously named the Isthmus Playhouse, The Playhouse has been renovated into a 350-seat theater and is home for the Madison Repertory Theatre. The stage and back-of-house support areas have been enlarged and traditional theater seating has been added.

Promenade Hall is a versatile second-floor space designed to accommodate a full orchestra rehearsal as well as full-scale theatrical performances. It also serves as an ideal setting for formal receptions and other events.

Rotunda Stage, the Overture's informal, lower lobby performance space. can be seen from the main Rotunda entry level of Overture Center. The primary use is for free family entertainment programs like a Saturday Kids in the Rotunda series. It serves as an intermission/breakout space for the Playhouse Theater.

The Rotunda Studio has theatrical details and simple finishes that make it a functional, if informal room, a good fit for rehearsals and a variety of gatherings and events. Wisconsin Studio is a third-floor space is suitable for formal receptions, performances, meetings and other events, including rehearsals. 

Overture Center for the Arts also presents exhibitions of visual art in the three galleries located off the Rotunda Lobby. All exhibits are free and open to the public.

While the Overture Center is indeed a world class facility, all is not perfect. Earlier this year, report said that without new sources of cash, including public ones, the Center could face financial challenges in 2008.

The Madison Cultural Arts District Board, the Overture Center's oversight body, said that the Overture's revenue projections mean that more individuals, corporations and governments will have to give more money to ensure the future of Frautschi's $200 million gift.

Members of the board said they had the revenue to cover this year's $11 million operating budget. But the board said it had to tap nearly $750,000 from what might be a one-time source of funding.

If you want to check out the Overture Center in person, the Rotunda Lobby and the Galleries open at 8:30 a.m., Monday through Saturday. The Overture Hall Lobby is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays.

You also can arrange for a private tour for your group. Cost for private group tours is based on the number of participants and can be tailored to your group's interests and schedule. In-depth guided tours through Overture's venues and backstage areas are available. Tours last approximately 90 minutes. The cost is $3, with children 5 and under free. Access to backstage areas is subject to availability.

Gregg Hoffmann Special to
Gregg Hoffmann is a veteran journalist, author and publisher of Midwest Diamond Report and Old School Collectibles Web sites. Hoffmann, a retired senior lecturer in journalism at UWM, writes The State Sports Buzz and Beyond Milwaukee on a monthly basis for OMC.