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How a local group is working to revitalize the Sorg Opera House

Over the last few years, the Sorg Opera House in Middletown has undergone major renovations. Volunteer crews have spent countless hours doing a lot of work, from removing debris and taking out the old theater seating to installing donated seats from Cincinnati Music Hall, putting up the theater curtain, and completing a variety of repairs, such as patching and painting.

Following two successful concerts last fall, the venue will present several upcoming concerts this spring. The lineup of concerts will kick-off on Saturday, April 7, with The Dizzy Gillespie Centennial hosted by the Cincinnati Contemporary Jazz Orchestra.

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We talked to Chuck Miller, Board President/Chair of the Sorg Opera Revitalization Group (SORG) to find out more about the renovations at the Sorg. He also shared more about what’s in store for concertgoers.

SORG is an all-volunteer nonprofit that owns and manages the Sorg Opera House. The Sorg Opera House is a historic theater, which is located at 63 South Main Street in Middletown. The theater holds about 730 guests, including the box seats. Proceeds from the concerts will benefit Sorg’s renovation fund. For more information, visit www.sorgoperahouse.org. Tickets for the upcoming concerts are available at www.cincyticket.com.

Q: Is this the first time you’re rolling out a full concert schedule?

A: The building has had a long series of issues. One of them was the fact that the heating and air-conditioning systems were (not in good working condition.) Some of it was taken to scrap by the prior owners, and the rest of it, we just don’t trust. The boiler was kind of dismantled, and we haven’t had heating or air-conditioning. Naturally, we’ve put off the shows until the weather gets a little bit warmer…Last fall, we had two concerts. We had to bring the building up to temporary occupancy standards with the City of Middletown. That was a long haul to get there, but we made it.

We are working on heating and air-conditioning right now. We have found a contractor to do the work. We have the parts to do HVAC work. And, I believe we have most of the funding for that…That would be an important step to our enhancing the customer experience within the theater.

Q: How do you feel about how things are going so far, and what are you most pleased about as far as being able to get it to this point?

A: When we started this effort, we had to bring our own water in containers to flush the toilets. I’m thrilled. I didn’t think we’d get to this point. It’s taken a little bit longer than I thought, but we have a great group of volunteers that are helping us push the project forward. They deserve all the credit in the world. Instead of figuring out how to secure the building, and board up the windows, we’re looking at producing concerts and generating revenue that we can put back into the building. I’m very excited about it. It’s been a long ride, but our group has hung in there, and the City has hung in there, and we’re very pleased.

Q: Tell us about yourself.

A: I’m a Chicago native that grew up in an era of progressive FM radio, learning about all these different kinds of music from classical to folk music, which was a great experience in the 1960’s and 1970’s. I’m a former public broadcaster, and I’ve been around the block managing and programming a variety of public radio stations…Thanks to public radio, I got deeply involved in music production, which lead to touring and music festival management, overseas. And, I stumbled into the Sorg Opera House by chance. We decided to go in, based on our history in the music business.

Q: What was the big motivator for you in all of this?

A: I think it’s the sheer opportunity. It’s a unique opportunity. It wasn’t just me. We have partners in this. We really talked about it and discovered the opportunity. The fascinating thing was once others saw the building, the light went on almost immediately. So, I think the motivators were multiple, including our joint love of music and music production, our joint appreciation of historic properties and our joint awareness of civic engagement. We saw very quickly that this building would be great for the area. A lot of things happened all at once, almost simultaneously.

Q: What do you love the most about the Sorg?

A: I love the Sorg’s opportunities. The looks, the acoustics and all of that it’s a given, but its future is what I think I love the most.

Q: You lead SORG’s board of directors. Who are the other board members serving with you?

A: SORG’s board consists of Ken Bowman (vice president/treasurer,) Denise Brodsky (secretary,) Walt McRee, Jeff Johnson, Bob Melloh, Sylvia McIntosh, Roger Daniel, Norma Armstrong, Gary Armstrong, Dawn Wamsley, Denise Hamet and Rev. Daniel Schaub.

Q: What are you most excited about as far as being able bring these concerts to the community?

A: I’m excited. I’m anxious as well. We are trying to bring a variety of content to the theater, content that we think fits the building, because of its stature, it’s age and its size. So, as far as these first shows, we know big band sounds fantastic, and it looks great, hence the Gillespie show and the Ellington show.

Q: Regarding the upcoming shows, is there one you’re most excited about, and why?

A: That’s a hard question to answer. I’m excited about all of them, because of the quality of music that we’re bringing in. But, as a kid, I remember discovering Steppenwolf, and I find it hard to believe we’re bringing the Steppenwolf founder and leader into the building. It’s amazing.

Q: Why would you encourage concertgoers to come out for the shows?

A: The Sorg Opera House is part of Middletown and the area. We’ve looked at this building, as not our little theater, or Middletown’s little theater, but the region’s theater. So, in that respect, we feel it’s a partner with the region. It’s also a partner with downtown Middletown as far as its development is concerned. We hope that our activity will hope to spur more activity in downtown Middletown. A lot of people have been working hard to spark downtown Middletown again. Since we’ve been working on the project, downtown has continued to change (and grow). Most of the buildings are full, and the restaurant scene is thriving. So, I think it’s a great opportunity to come downtown to have a meal and see a show.

Q: Can you give us a run down of the upcoming concerts at the Sorg?

A: We’ll kick things off this spring with The Dizzy Gillespie Centennial with Cincinnati Contemporary Jazz Orchestra on Saturday, April 7 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door.

Blue Birds Big Band and G. Miles & the Hitmen will perform on Saturday, April 21 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door.

Duke Ellington Birthday Celebration/Benefit with the Blue Wisp Big Band on Saturday, April 28 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 in advance, and $30 at the door.

John Kay will celebrate 50 years of Steppenwolf on Saturday, May 5 at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $30.

The Dayton Jazz Orchestra will perform on the Sorg stage on Saturday, May 19, 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door.

The Monday Night Big Band will celebrate the music of Count Basei and Les Brown on Saturday, June 16 at 8 p.m. Tickets for this show will go on sale soon.

All tickets are available at www.cincyticket.com.

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