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Jason Olson, Deseret Morning News
Guests arrive for the grand opening gala at the new Covey Center for the Arts on Thursday. The Coveys donated $2 million to the facility.

PROVO — A cultural buffet of violins, ballerinas and beautiful voices christened the theater of the new Covey Center for the Arts in downtown Provo on Thursday night — including a surprise appearance by pianist James O'Neil Miner.

The Provo Arts Council offered a sampling of coming attractions at the Grand Opening Gala, and a Utah Valley society-page audience roared with laughter at an improvisational play that lampooned center namesakes Steven R. and Sandra M. Covey, who donated $2 million.

An audience member suggested the name "Seven Habits" for the spontaneous musical by the improv group Thrillionaires, who did not disappoint.

"I want to sharpen your saw," the lovesick loser of a protagonist told his chosen after changing for the better in the wake of reading Steven Covey's "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People."

One of the biggest laughs came after the young man asked the girl to be his and she swooned, "I've been waiting for a proactive question like that my whole life."

The quartet and pianist did so well that Steven Covey stood at the end and signaled a touchdown.

The new home of the Utah Valley Symphony, the Wasatch Chorale and full-length productions by the Utah Regional Ballet has hosted several events, soft openings, since July. But Thursday night's gala was the citywide celebration of a project conceived more than a quarter of a century ago.

That's why Utah Valley Symphony director Bryce Ritting chose a section of Beethoven's Symphony No. 6 as fitting for the occasion — after a storm in the middle section, Beethoven wrote in the score that the final section was of "feelings of thankfulness after the storm."

In a video shown before Thursday's program, Sandra Covey said the center would be a central place for all of Provo's art interests to meet. The program appeared designed to prove it.

A piano and vocal medley by Jeanne Madsen and Jennie Bangerter Larsen was followed by the Utah Lyric Opera, the Utah Regional Ballet, the Thrillionaires and the symphony. After intermission, the Wasatch Chorale, the Utah Pipe Band and the Utah Valley State College ballroom dance team took the stage.

The center features a 670-seat theater and three dance studios. The building also has a large general purpose studio, recording capability, an art gallery and full orchestra pit.

The building is located at 425 W. Center, next door to the Provo City Center and police station.

The Covey's donation was buoyed by $1 million from USX, formerly U.S. Steel, in a deal that involved the cleanup of the city's Ironton section.

Six families and organizations donated between $100,000 and $499,000 — the Melanie Bastian Family Foundation, the George S. and Delores Dore Eccles Foundation, Steven and Kalleen Lund, James and Angela Salter, L. Douglas and Marian Smoot and Zions Bank.

Provo Mayor Lewis Billings also announced during the program that a donor who will be identified at a later day has pledged $100,000 toward the project to go with a $22,000 donation just received from the Utah Valley Symphony. That leaves $300,000 still to be raised.

The center's next scheduled events are concerts by the Utah Valley Symphony on Oct. 17 and 18, followed by a Utah Premiere Brass concert on Oct. 19 and an "Evening with Groucho" on Oct. 20. Fifteen events are scheduled in December, including seven performances of the Nutcracker by the Utah Regional Ballet. Tickets can be purchased online at www.coveycenter.org/webtix, via telephone at 801-852-7007 or at the Covey Center box office, weekdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

E-mail: twalch@desnews.com