A venue was custom-built at California’s Rose Bowl for the new “Apollo 11 — The Immersive Live Show” production. (Courtesy Apollo 11 Productions)

Custom-built 35,000-square-foot venue helps bring first moon landing to audiences

Apollo 11 is taking off nightly, 50 years after the first moon landing, at Pasadena’s Rose Bowl in a purpose-built $15 million venue.

“Apollo 11 — The Immersive Live Show” opened Wednesday and the show is booked through Sept. 1. The show tells the story of the Apollo 11 mission as seen through the eyes of a former NASA engineer who was on the floor of mission control on the day Apollo 11 landed on the moon.

The 35,000-square-foot venue, called the Lunar Dome, was built over the last month in the the Rose Bowl parking lot. It seats 1,600 people.

Nick Grace, the lead producer for the Apollo 11 show, decided with his team early on that the show needed to play in a custom-built venue. “This will be the world’s largest touring venue,” he said. “The 360-degree projection will take up the entire ceiling.”

Grace has produced international touring shows including “Mama Mia” and Blue Man Group.  The team’s credits range from Broadway to Las Vegas.

The inside of the Lunar Dome, a specially built venue that now sits on the grounds of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. (Courtesy Apollo 11 Productions)

“We didn’t want to put it into a conventional theater or an arena because we felt there was going to be a lot of technology we wanted to replicate and that would be even more difficult in a regular facility,” Grace said. “The show will be running for three years, in 18 cities, each for six to eight weeks. With all that in mind, building the Lunar Dome made the best sense to us.”

“The show is pretty interesting,” said Jens Weiden, chief revenue officer at Pasadena’s Rose Bowl. “We’ve been approached and talked about doing traveling theatrical productions but could never find the perfect fit. When we were offered this opportunity, we thought, ‘We are the home of (NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory) and Cal Tech’ and the space program has huge ties to Pasadena. It was just what we were looking for as a project to do in this space.”

“It’s not a tent. It’s a real building,” he said. “We had to get permits and approval from the city planning department.”

The seats have seatbacks that come down. There’s air conditioning in the dome and the building is soundproof, mostly because the operators don’t want outside noise intruding on the performance.

“They put a lot of money into this,” Weiden said. “The experience is literally out of this world. It’s immersive. There’s an LED projection on the walls and ceiling. There’s a life-size version of the lunar lander and almost a full-size version of the rocket that takes off. It’s pretty neat.”

Charlie Duke, who walked on the moon in 1972 as an astronaut on Apollo 16, advised on the project. “He was the voice of the man speaking to Neil Armstrong on the moon,” Grace said. “We were so honored to have him onboard.”

Levy is the food and beverage provider at the Rose Bowl and is providing concessions at the Apollo 11 show.

Mark Rapisardi, Levy’s general manager at the Rose Bowl, has added space- and 60s-themed items to the list of concessions that will be available. Moon Rock Bars, created by Seattle Chocolate, will be on sale, as will a variety of 1960s candy such as Mike and Ike and Bit-O-Honey.

“We tried to tie in the theme but still give the fans what they expect like salads, cheese and cracker plates and sandwiches,” Rapisardi said. “It’s been a great partnership with the Apollo 11 team.”

Levy will not move on with the show, but the 60’s candy and space bars will. Next up is Costa Mesa, Calif., where the show will land at the Orange County Fair Grounds for performances in September and October, followed by a run at the Space Center in Houston. Future dates and cities have not been announced.

It will take 45 trucks to move the Lunar Dome and three weeks to put it back up. The crew will travel by bus, and the 25 actors in the cast will arrive at each city separately from the convoy.

Tickets range from $45-$215. Although the show is booked to stay on the Rose Bowl grounds till September, tickets are only available through Aug. 11.

“We expect a total of around 60 shows,” explained Weiden. “The Apollo 11 team wants to wait until they see how ticket sales are going before setting the rest of the dates.”

While Grace is concentrating on the North American run, he’s got his eye on an international tour. “We’ll see how it goes,” he said. “The beauty of traveling with our own venue is that it gives us many options in every city.”

“We want people to know how it happened 50 years ago,” Grace said. “We want to educate and inspire people.”