Martin & Martin help christen Hancher

Comedy pals join glittering audience for gala reopening of University of Iowa performing arts center

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IOWA CITY — Design architect Cesar Pelli was nervous as he stood outside his creation Saturday night.

“My baby is being born and going away from me,” said Pelli, 89, designer of some of the world’s tallest buildings dotting urban landscapes from London to Kuala Lumpur. He and his team from his New Haven, Conn., firm, Pelli Clarke Pelli, traveled to join their Midwest architectural and construction collaborators for the gala reopening of Hancher Auditorium,

“I’m still nervous,” he said as he walked through the front doors of the University of Iowa’s glittering $176 million performing arts center. And as he addressed the crowd after a rousing standing ovation, he said, “This building was created with love. I hope you will enjoy the shows here.”

One of the people in the audience knows just what it took to make the new Hancher rise uphill from the original Hancher, lost to the Floods of 2008. Ed Marshall, 48, of Wheaton, Ill., a former member of the Hawkeye football defensive line, was on the concrete crew that put up Hancher’s new hallowed halls. He was proud to be one of five construction workers who showed up on a day when the temperature plummeted to minus 40 degrees.

“I’ve worked on a lot of big projects in Chicago, but nothing as sentimental as Hancher Auditorium,” he said. “It will be here long after I’m gone.”

More than 20,000 people have reveled in the new building this month, from 9,000 who attended two public open houses to 8,000 who came the following weekend for a free outdoor concert, followed by donors and guests who came to a gala dinner Friday night, and the capacity crowd filling every floor of the building to laugh with Steve Martin and Martin Short.

“That’s magical. That says a lot about that love of Hancher,” Executive Director Chuck Swanson said as the audience entered to oohs and ahhs. “The Hancher spirit is more than a building, but we’re glad to have our home back — and not just a home, but a beautiful home with a balance of form and function. We’re ready to roll.”

The headliners were ready to roll, too, regaling the crowd with a video montage of the characters that made them famous, from television to films. Two-thirds of “The Three Amigos” — just a couple of wild and crazy guys — then launched into a long segment of “Hollywood compliments” for each other, ending with cringe-worthy zingers.

As they exercised their considerable comedy chops, they also took a turn in the musical spotlight, with Martin igniting the banjo alongside his stellar Steep Canyon Rangers bluegrass band.

The two Martins called the show “An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life.” They lied.

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