Once considered another empty historic building in downtown Middletown, the Sorg Opera House has been rejuvenated, survived the coronavirus pandemic and is flourishing, said Nancy Griffith, board president of the Sorg Opera Revitalization Group (SORG).
Five years ago, the Sorg was named to the 2016 list of Ohio’s Most Endangered Historic Sites, a designation the non-profit organization SORG hoped would help raise money for the building’s rebirth.
Since then, the opera house, constructed in 1890 and designed by architect Samuel Hannaford, who also designed the nearby Sorg Mansion, has experienced major renovations.
Denise Brodsky, former secretary of the SORG, once called the opera house “a little gem right here in Middletown.” Brodsky credited then SORG President Chuck Miller for his efforts to win the endangered historic designation, and said SORG’s “very energetic and enthusiastic board” is making progress.
The Sorg, 34 S. Main St., recently received a $17,768 grant from the Middletown Community Foundation and used the money to purchase curtains and resurface the stage floor, according to Griffith.
She called the improvements “a big piece of our puzzle.”
Some of those upgrades were highlighted when the Sorg hosted its 131st birthday open house on Sept. 10 and sold-out “Night Fever” concert Sept. 11 that originally was scheduled for last year, the day after Gov. Mike DeWine shut down businesses due to COVID-19.
The open house gave the 150 visitors an opportunity to tour the Sorg, including the balcony, dressing rooms under the stage and its commercial building. The original Sorg Opera House sign that recently was uncovered was displayed in the lobby.
“It’s so exciting to see where we have come from and where we are today,” Griffith said. “We are so fortunate, so lucky that we came out of the pandemic not bankrupt.”
Griffith said the Sorg is important to the community because it provides local theater enthusiasts an opportunity to see local productions and it’s an economic driver for downtown businesses. There are 17 musical shows scheduled for the rest of the year and seven so far in 2022.
Ami Vitori, owner of Gracie’s, a downtown restaurant, said when there are weekend shows at the Sorg business increases tremendously.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “They have done a great job. Such good work.”
A lifetime Middletown resident, Griffith said she understands why skeptics were leery when it came to the rebirth of the Sorg. She spoke last week to the Rotary Club and the members were surprised when she told them the opera house has no employees.
“Super devoted volunteers,” she said. “We are all on the same page. We are there for the good of the theater.”
For the Sorg to continue to grow, the board needs to create a steady stream of revenue, Griffith said. She said the Sorg wants to add tenants to the four-floor commercial building.
“Nothing on that scale happens quickly,” she said. “You have to keep the vision for the long haul.”