Arts & Theater

B Street’s new Sofia theater complex is (almost) ready for its close-up

The Sofia Theatre opened a year ago in Sacramento.
The Sofia Theatre opened a year ago in Sacramento.

It’s formal name is a mouthful: The Sofia Tsakopoulos Center for the Arts.

But soon, Sacramento theater and music lovers will know it simply as The Sofia, an entertainment cornerstone for midtown Sacramento.

To Buck Busfield and B Street Theatre, the 48,000-square-foot complex at 27th Street and Capitol Avenue is something much more meaningful: It’s home.

“We’re really thrilled, and also a little apprehensive,” Buckfield said as he dodged workers in a theater hallway earlier this week. “It’s like moving into a new house. Where is everything? But the architects, the builders, everyone did a phenomenal job.”

With two state-of-the-art stages, the $30 million project represents a long-awaited dream for Busfield and the 32-year-old theater company he started with his brother, actor Timothy Busfield.

“We were building this project while doing another capital campaign – and still running a theater company,” he said. “It’s been a thrilling time, equal parts of exhaustion, exaltation and apprehension. So much is happening at once.”

This rush to opening culminates years of behind-the-scenes work. B Street originally received the corner parcel – a block from Sutter Medical Center – in 2005 as a donation from Sutter Health. It took more than a decade to raise financing and finalize plans.

A 2017 gift by Sacramento land developer Angelo K. Tsakopoulos and the Sutter Health Community Benefit closed the final $3 million gap to complete construction. The complex is named in honor of Sofia Tsakopoulos, Angelo’s wife.

Even as concrete was poured and steel beams were bolted into place, Busfield kept fundraising for such finishing touches as more LED lighting and 64-inch video screens for the lobby.

This week, work crews hustled to finish The Sofia in time for its formal opening Feb. 2 with the mainstage production of the British farce “One Man, Two Guvnors.” B Street received its occupancy permits Jan. 12.

As musicians rehearsed skiffle songs for the debut show, contractors drilled holes for door hardware. Painters applied stencils for signage in the lobby. Thirty feet above the thrust stage, crews strung a complicated web of wiring for digital lighting.

“The smartest thing I did was designate one person to be in charge of the move,” Busfield said as he watched the construction. “When we started, she had more than 800 individual projects on her to-do list.”

Lyndsay Burch, B Street’s artistic producer, doubled as move manager. She has been steadily crossing items off that lengthy list. At the same time, she has been writing the musical that will open The Sofia’s 365-seat Sutter Theatre, its second stage. Titled “Gandhi!,” the new family-friendly production tells the story of Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi with more than 15 songs and Bollywood choreography by Angela Todaro. It opens Feb. 24.

“Gandhi!” is the sort of big production that B Street couldn’t do in its old home, a renovated warehouse on the edge of the central city with tight spaces, little staging area and low ceilings. Its old mainstage theater held fewer than 180 people; its second stage, about 110.

“It’s the biggest family production we’ve ever done,” said Burch, who traveled to India to research the play. “We debated a lot about what title we should start with (in the new theater). Something more familiar may have been safer. But this is new, it’s a B Street original production, and it’s relevant to our time.”

In other words, it’s pure B Street.

With burnt orange upholstered seats, the Sutter Theatre – California’s first year-round professional theater for children – feels very grown up for a space devoted to family productions. The proscenium stage is big enough to handle a full-scale Broadway musical.

“This actually is the main component that makes this a true performing arts center,” Burch said. “We expect a lot of musical acts to play here.”

SBL Entertainment will handle booking those acts, with 80 to 100 concerts expected this year, Busfield said. Blues guitarist Tinsley Ellis kicks things off Feb. 25. In March, the hall will host such acts as Masters of Hawaiian Music (March 6), violinist Joe Kye (March 10) and songwriter Cheryl Wheeler (March 31). The Sacramento Ballet and Camellia Symphony are expected to perform there, too.

B Street will perform most of its mainstage adult productions on the yet-to-be-named thrust stage, surrounded on three sides by 250 gold-upholstered stadium-style seats. The steep rake of the mainstage theater puts patrons on top of the action, maintaining the intimacy that B Street regulars expect.

“That was a major concern of our patrons: Would we still be an intimate theater?” Busfield said. “Definitely, yes.”

Accentuating acoustics inside the theaters are walls of pale gold beetle-kill pine paneling, streaked with blue. (Those distinctive streaks are a byproduct of the beetles, Burch said.) Tied to The Sofia’s Northern California roots, the pine came from trees that died in the nearby Sierra foothills.

B Street asked the Sacramento Tree Foundation to help find rescued wood to use in The Sofia, Burch explained. The foundation reached out to PG&E, which was able to source the wood via its contractors in the Sierra foothills.

Harmonizing with the pine, cadet blue covers other walls and is echoed in the carpeting. In each theater, this soft hue contrasts with the sunset colors of the seats like an evening sky.

With large windows overlooking Capital Avenue, the lobby has an industrial look with polished concrete floors and exposed concrete block walls, trimmed in walnut.

Upstairs, three rehearsal halls offer room for plenty of action and are already in use.

It’s what patrons won’t see that gets B Street staffers really excited. With room to accommodate all sorts of scenery and props, the backstage spaces are as big as the seating areas. A row of dressing rooms feels luxurious with private showers and star-worthy amenities.

“We have a real wardrobe room!” said Paulette Sand-Gilbert, the costume designer working on “One Man, Two Guvnors.” “It’s amazing. I feel blessed to be the first designer to have this space. It’s just wonderful.”

Sand-Gilbert, an eight-year B Street veteran, won’t miss lugging her sewing machine around, she said. “If I had to do sewing, it was in the corner of a dressing room. Now, we actually have a real home.”

Debbie Arrington: 916-321-1075, @debarrington

B Street at The Sofia

First play: “One Man, Two Guvnors” by Richard Bean

Where: Sofia Tsakopoulos Center for the Arts, 2700 Capital Ave., Sacramento

When: Feb. 2-March 4

Tickets: $32-$46; limited availability

Details: www.bstreettheatre.org

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