The New Old

With a new owner and a renovation under way, the Bing Crosby Theater is ready to show itself off

Marshall E. Peterson Jr.
Marshall E. Peterson Jr.

When Michael Smith came to work at what was then the Metropolitan Performing Arts Center in 1988, the place was in shambles. Soon, it was gutted and the theater took a few promising turns, leaving Smith excited for the future.

Over the years, things changed, most notably, it became the Bing Crosby Theater and more recently, it was bought by a notable local investor. Now, 25 years after he arrived, Smith is again excited for the future.

“It was time to reinvigorate the theater,” says Smith, now the manager of The Bing.

“The excitement I felt in 1988, I’m feeling that again.

It’s been about a year since local developer Jerry Dicker bought the theater, and now The Bing is celebrating a rebirth of sorts this weekend with A Fling at The Bing, a celebration of singing and dance to kick off the next phase in the historic building’s story — which includes a roughly $1 million facelift.

The goal, as Smith and Dicker put it, is to make The Bing a community hub where everything from rock concerts to literary readings take a stage that will host an event nearly every day.

“The idea is to make this a well-oiled presenting theater and a place where it’s easy for people to do a show,” says Smith. “There’s been so much excitement. All of these groups want to work for it to become a better place. I’ve seen such a community response to making it happen.”

Smith and Dicker aren’t officially re-launching The Bing, but they’re also not shy about explaining how they plan to make the venue a vibrant spot for the community to utilize. They both say A Fling at The Bing is a coming-out party of sorts — an accessible event to bring people through the doors, perhaps for the first time. The three-performance event features songs, dances and operatic performances of American classics and musical theater favorites performed by a cast of artists who’ve performed frequently throughout the area.

“The Fling will be a great upbeat traditional song fest with some of the best singers in Spokane and Seattle,” says Dicker.

When the audience arrives in the theater, they’ll notice one big change — a bar near the entrance glowing with neon trim and ready to offer a libation. Other changes, most notably the addition of a VIP gathering area called Ovations, featuring 80 feet of windows and a spiral staircase leading into the theater. Dicker says that space is expected to be completed by the beginning of May and will be used for meet-and-greet events, lectures and other special gatherings.

On a recent tour of the historic theater, Smith stands on the balcony level of the theater, pointing excitedly at different features of the spacious venue, outlining his plans. A new surround sound system is in the works, aimed at enhancing the experience at the ongoing film series at The Bing, which kicked off last weekend with screenings of Dr. No. Smith is planning to show concert films in the near future, making quick use of his new equipment. He also plans to equip the theater with the capability to produce DVDs of The Bing’s performances and also stream live shows. Much of this is still in the works, he says.

“Our ideas come quickly. Getting stuff installed takes time,” Smith says with a laugh.

Smith’s upcoming bookings by local and national promoters run the gamut — from a one-man show, to movie screenings to a show by indie rockers Built to Spill, to an upcoming Grease sing-along.

In all, Dicker says they’ve put about $450,000 into the theater so far, meaning about half of the update is either completed or currently under way. The aim of these efforts is pretty simple — they want people to spend time at The Bing.

“It should be a vibrant community theater with a number of different specialties including music, movies, literature, science and education,” says Dicker. “Every day there’s something happening at The Bing. That’s our goal.” 

A Fling at The Bing • Fri, Jan. 25 at 7:30 pm; Sat, Jan. 26 at 2 pm and 7:30 pm • Bing Crosby Theater • 901 W. Sprague • $12, $8/groups of 10 or more, $4-8 for Saturday matinee •

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About The Author

Mike Bookey

Mike Bookey is the culture editor for The Inlander. He previously held the same position at The Source Weekly in Bend, Ore.