Jacob Klein’s Legacy
Celebrating 75 years of entertaining
The Klein Memorial Auditorium turns 75 this year, and plans to celebrate in style. The 1,400-seat venue was built in 1940 thanks to a $500,000 charitable donation from Bridgeport native Jacob Klein, who designated the gift for a performing arts center. Designed by local architect Leonard Asheim, the structure is a beautiful example of the art-deco style popular at the time. Huge, bronze doors open into the marble lobby, which features mirror image staircases leading to the mezzanine and balcony levels. Inside, the proscenium-style stage (one of only seven in the state), has welcomed a wide variety of performances including theatre, dance, music, and comedy. From the very first performance on November 11, 1940, featuring Spanish dancer Manuela del Rio, to December’s celebratory kick-off event, the internationally acclaimed Vienna Boys Choir, The Klein continues to represent what Jacob Klein wanted for the building, says executive director Laurence Caso.
Over the years, The Klein has opened its doors for a wide variety of events. It is home to both the Greater Bridgeport Symphony Orchestra and the Greater Bridgeport Youth Symphony Orchestra. It welcomes the New England Ballet each year, including three performances of The Nutcracker every December. The space also hosts local high school graduations and large civil ceremonies, including the swearing in for the Police Academy and naturalization ceremonies for those being granted U.S. citizenship. Throughout the year, area school groups attend cultural and arts events including the Alvin Ailey Dance Company and the Paper Bag Players.
In 2012, a strategic plan was outlined where the Fairfield Theatre Company was assigned management responsibility, and became the biggest renter of the space. “We love working with them,” says Caso. “Everybody wins.” Together, they present up to a dozen shows annually. Performers including B.B. King, Peter Frampton, George Carlin, and the B-52s are just a few of the big-name acts that pack the house.
What most people don’t realize is that in addition to serving as a premier performance space, The Klein is making a difference in the greater Bridgeport community. Through its After School at the Klein (ASK) program, which began in 2013, Bridgeport students in grades seven to 12 spend three afternoons a week receiving professional instruction in music, dance, and drama, tuition-free. “Our mission is not to identify the next Rihanna or Justin Timberlake,” explains Caso. “It’s to provide Bridgeport youngsters with an opportunity to find something inside themselves, and to encourage kids to learn how to share this with others.” Together with a Saturday program that provides free one-on-one musical instrument lessons to kids as young as second grade (instruments are also provided at no charge), The Klein welcomed nearly 100 students representing all nine Bridgeport school districts this past year, with plans to grow even more in the future. “It really teaches them a sense of self worth,” says Caso.
The entire year of 2015 will be a celebration. February’s “Footsteps of Mandala” concert is a musical special event to promote world peace from producer Joel Martin. Emceed by MTV’s Jeremy Hassell, it features performers from around the globe. Additional anniversary events scheduled include the Marvonna Dance Competition February 20 to 22, and the family-friendly Celebration Talent event March 7 to 8, as well as performances by the Bridgeport symphony and (possibly) Bill Cosby. The celebratory year will culminate in a gala concert in November. The Klein has come a long way since that first performance in 1940, when tickets ranged from $1.10 to $8.85, and Miss del Rio and her ensemble graced the stage with their Spanish dancing.