PHOENIX RISING: Nancy Wilson joins Sammy Hagar during Alice Cooper’s 21st Annual Christmas Pudding concert at the Celebrity Theatre on Dec. 9. (Getty Images)

When 74-year-old Rich Hazelwood died of leukemia on March 1, 2021, some were concerned about the future of his beloved Celebrity Theatre in Phoenix.

With his daughter, Heidi Hazelwood, at the helm, the 60-year-old venue has continued to spin.

“It all started with a young boy on his paper route who rode his bike by this building, growing up and just had hopes of one day attending a show here,” said Hazelwood during a recent press. “That dream came true in 1998, when he ended up purchasing the Celebrity Theatre and living out one of his biggest dreams.”

She said her father had a simple vision.

“When he bought the theater, it was to enjoy concerts, enjoy artists he grew up seeing and just have fun,” she said. “He wanted to invite friends and family and develop a family atmosphere here at the Celebrity Theatre — not only with our employees but with our patrons.”

That vision continues with the unveiling of the Encore Lounge, located on the venue’s lower level. The space features a second stage for smaller acts as well as memorabilia, merchandise for sale and a full bar.

In January 2021, David Cruse walked into the Celebrity Theatre for the first time since he moved to Phoenix in 2016. He sat on the stage that was merely illuminated by a ghost light.

“I sat on the chair, and I put my hand on the ghost light and went, ‘Oh my God. We need to do comedy in here,’” said Cruse, who acted as a consultant for the venue.

He booked an old friend, comedian Bert Kreischer, who has since become a champion for the venue.

Cruse helped book great shows, but, looking around the venue, he saw multiple problems. The chain that spins the stage had broken; the boiler room had flooded, and the bathrooms were a “nightmare.”

Eventually, Hazelwood moved Cruse from a consultant to managing director. Together, they arranged the repairs. Instead of being down about the pandemic, the staff snapped into action.

“Man, it was expensive,” he said about the $1.8 million project. “We’ve replaced, essentially, the entire plumbing system in the building, and we knew we had to redo the bathrooms after that,” he said.

ENCORE: The lower level of the Celebrity Theatre has been renovated and rebranded into the Encore Lounge, featuring a second stage for smaller artists, offering merchandise and a full bar. (Matt Kirkpatrick)

Organically, those moves led to the renovation of the lower level, once called the Celebrity Club.

“I remember walking in here and there was this old, waterlogged drop ceiling above me,” Cruse recalled. “A guy was on the ladder, taking pieces of the drop ceiling down and I caught a glimpse of a piece of concrete on an angle.”

As he ripped down the piece of drywall, interesting columns were revealed. Cruse asked the crews to remove all of the drywall.

“It’s so much cooler to have this architectural feature in there,” he said. “The next question was, how do we celebrate the history in a better way? We had taken down all of the memorabilia, which was hanging on the walls.”

The Celebrity Club then evolved into the Encore Lounge, the original name of the lower-level room. The bar will now feature lesser-known acts on a second stage; merchandise for sale; and a full slate of cocktails.

“We’re not booked seven days a week so if we hit a point where we’re six to eight weeks out from a show, well, why not put one down here?” said Cruse, adding Grateful Dead, Bruce Springsteen, Beyonce, The Weeknd and Linda Ronstadt played the Celebrity in their early days.

He ensures the comfort of the bands and the audience.

“We want the audience to feel like they’re coming home to something,” he said. “We want to create memories—whether that is somebody having the time of their life seeing their favorite band or somebody bringing their grandmother to a show who just always wanted to see this performer, or someone who graduates high school here.

“With every single thing we do, somebody is having the best night of their life. You can see that.”