The three-story building has multiple stained-glass windows inside, as well as chandeliers and a lobby mural that once graced the ceiling of the original opera house theater. There's a ballroom on the top floor.
After a renovation in 1993, various people managed the building. Whitesell, a retired attorney from Iowa Falls, had admired the building for decades. So he bought it out of bankruptcy in May. While it had remained open, the theater had fallen into disarray over the years.
"I kept thinking, 'I can't let the theater go down like that,'" he said.
So he closed it for a short period over the summer and renovated the interior with new air conditioning, heating and electrical wiring. Most importantly, he installed two digital projectors. While he won't disclose how much he's spent fixing the place up, his goal is to make the theater financially sustainable.
"I just want to make sure it's here all the time," he said. "If we break even, keep it going, I'd be happy."
For its opening night Sept. 21, limited ticket holders will walk down a red carpet leading to the theater. Jackman will also walk the red carpet, and organizers hope the star will be accessible to scores of visitors unable to win tickets.
"The idea, as far as I'm concerned, the event has two aspects to it," Whitesell said. "One, is to let people realize what a great city we have here in Iowa Falls. No, we're not a metropolitan area, but we are just a fantastic city. Secondly, to show how we've really come to love this theater that's remodeled."
Special $100 tickets were offered on a first-come, first-serve basis on Friday and sold out in 35 minutes. The remaining tickets are on sale until Sept. 19 as raffle tickets for $25. Winning tickets will be selected through a drawing a few days before Jackman arrives, and each winner will get two tickets for one of the two movie showings. The event is serving as a fundraiser to buy patient equipment for the local Ellsworth Municipal Hospital.