With celebrities, veterans and other VIPs in attendance, the National World War II Museum in New Orleans will unveil the latest additions in its $300-million expansion this weekend.
A new 70,000-square-foot complex houses the Solomon Victory Theater, the Stage Door Canteen and The American Sector restaurant – billed as significant attractions for the city's cultural scene.
Events kick off Friday morning, when Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks and museum leaders will introduce "Beyond All Boundaries," a 4-D cinematic experience produced and narrated by Hanks.
Dedication and grand-opening ceremonies follow at 8 a.m., including a military fly-over and precision parachutist. The museum's three new venues officially open to the public Nov. 7, with free activities for visitors on the expanded campus. That night, they can enjoy the Victory Stomp, a New Orleans-style block party with entertainment and cuisine from award-winning chef John Besh.
With a 120-foot screen, the Solomon Victory Theater promises to immerse the audience in a sensory World War II experience, where they'll feel the steam of Guadalcanal's jungles and hear the rumble of tanks across North Africa. Using life-size props and atmospherics, as well as film and sound, Hollywood technicians designed the theater with everyone from the Greatest Generation to the youngest generation in mind.
"Beyond All Boundaries" was created specifically for the Victory Theater. The 40-minute film features an all-star cast (Brad Pitt, Patricia Clarkson, Gary Sinise, James Cromwell and others lend their voices) and blends original war footage with special effects and digital animation.
"This isn't another World War II film," says Dr. Gordon H. "Nick" Mueller, the museum's president and CEO. "This is a cinematic experience unavailable anywhere else in the world."
Adjoining the theater is the new Stage Door Canteen, a throwback to the wartime venues of New York and Los Angeles and a celebration of 1940s American pop culture. The 150-seat vintage theater-style space will feature swing dancers, Big Band tunes and a war-bond drive – "educating through entertainment," says Gary Solomon, president and executive producer of Solomon Group Entertainment, a creative and technical production firm working with the museum.
Finally, visitors can enjoy casual American food with a gourmet twist at The American Sector, a chef John Besh restaurant. A Marine veteran of Operation Desert Storm and the 2006 winner of the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef of the Southwest, Besh has put together a menu reminiscent of the 1940s for the business crowd and museum visitors. The restaurant bears the original name of the historic New Orleans district now called the Warehouse District.
The Victory Theater complex is the first phase in the National World War II Museum's six-acre, 300,000-square-foot expansion. By 2015, the museum will have four additional exhibition buildings, space for traveling exhibits and a parade ground.