For the better part of 80 years, the Capri Theater, at 2027 West Broadway, has been a place to see movies. Originally named the Paradise, the theater is the last of 13 movie houses once located in north Minneapolis. On a recent afternoon some students from the Plymouth Christian Youth Center are watching "Deja Vu", a movie staring Denzel Washington.
The Youth Center, located next door, has owned and run the Capri since 1984.
After the students leave the theater and head home for the Thanksgiving Holiday weekend, the Capri's development director Karl Reichert provides a tour of the Capri. He raises the movie screen and points out some of the features of the old stage.
"(This is) our stage wall back here in the stagehouse. There's an angle here, so our plans are calling for us to remove this old stagehouse, and then actually extend it out further so we'll get better alignment for the seats here and the proscenium will be cut open six more feet," he says.
In a few weeks, Reichert is hoping that all 250 seats will be full for the premiere of "A Copasetic Christmas Carol." The show is a swing-jazz musical take on the Dickens classic. The co-creator of the show, vocalist Charmin Michelle, performed in the theater earlier this year in a concert that celebrated the music of Nat King Cole, Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday. Michelle, sitting in a meeting room next to the theater, says she's looking forward to performing in the Capri again.
"I was just taken aback by the sound we got naturally from the room," she says. "And it's just visually beautiful. It's a perfect space. Just what musicians need to be able to come in and rehearse, dance if you need to rehearse that. And just a wonderful place to put on a show."
The Capri, like many old buildings along West Broadway Avenue, has seen better days. West Broadway was once a vibrant, bustling corridor lined with retail shops, restaurants and small businesses. But in the late 1960's and early 1970's, an exodus of white, middle-class residents to the suburbs marked the beginning of economic and social decline on the north side.
Anne Little Long, the executive director of the Plymouth Christian Youth Center and a 35-year resident of the north side, remembers better days.
"When we came to town we used to go to supper at DeLisi's, at least every other week," says Long. "It was a lovely, family restaurant. And you could go and sit down with, you know folks, it was great. To not have a restaurant that has some variety of food that you can go to - it's just such a big hole in a community's life."
Delisi's restaurant is closed and the building is vacant. But the building will soon be redeveloped and will become the new home of community radio station KMOJ. Plus crime on the north side, as with other parts of the city, has been on the decrease. These developments and others are cause for optimism, but the process is slow, Long says.
"We're not back to where we were even when we moved to town in 1973 in terms of retail and the variety of retail that's around here," says Long. "And we still haven't lured back into the north side the folks who can continue to come back and give strength - the professionals and the middle class. But the tragedy of the housing problem with the foreclosures is that there are now some opportunities for people to get some homes that can come back and buy them and stay here if they can afford it."
Long says the Capri has a vital role to play in rebuilding the north side. The theater provides a safe place for north side youth to watch movies, live music and spoken word performances and musical theater. And Long says the youth center is working to increase the Capri's capacity. She says her organization is in the process of raising more funds to expand the number of seats, enlarge the stage and add dressing rooms.
"A Copasetic Christimas Carol" will be staged one night only on Dec. 15, with a matinee performance the following Sunday.