The paint in the lobby is still damp, the gilt trim on the stage apron has yet to be applied and plastic sheeting protects the square bar in the center of the rear mezzanine, but on opening night on Saturday, March 2, the newly renovated Suffolk Theater will make her debut as the grand lady she was originally designed to be. And then some.
Having first opened her doors in December of 1933 as a moving picture theater and operating continually until 1987, the lovingly restored Suffolk, purchased in 2005 by Diane and Bob Castaldi, is about to change the face of entertainment on Main Street in Riverhead.
According to Bob Spiotto, Executive Director of this historic Art Deco landmark theater, “one of the most exciting aspects of this particular space is the sheer history of it.”
The Castaldis, who are builders, purchased the theater with the vision of creating a state-of-the-art performing arts center, but the process has not been easy. The project became mired in litigation for three years. They knew bringing forth new life wouldn’t come without labor pains, so the Castaldis held fast and pushed forward. And now they are about to celebrate that effort and the work of the craftsmen who painstakingly restored the original handcrafted details of their “baby.”
The season kicks off with a grand “Back to the Thirties” party featuring drinks and dancing to the music of 2012 Grammy winner Vince Giordano (soundtrack, Boardwalk Empire). The birthdays of Dinah Shore, James Taylor, Nat King Cole, Johann Sebastian Bach and Toscanini will be commemorated with musical celebrations. There will be a tribute to the Women of Rock, a Broadway musical review, a Country & Western night, and the National Circus Project is coming to town with workshops for all ages and an evening performance. And that’s just March.
There are bookings in place for play readings, new artists, well-know musical acts, tribute bands, and comedy nights. “Additionally, we will be showing films, paying appropriate homage to the theater’s original usage. We will host film festivals and events that highlight multi media,” says Spiotto, gesturing to a large calendar behind his desk that is filled with color-coordinated Post-it notes with booking information for the next year. “The space is incredibly vibrant….What adds to this celebration of the arts is my desire to present local, Long Island and world premieres.”
In addition to a variety of entertainment, the theater boasts two bars, lounges, spacious restrooms, a state-of-the art sound and lighting booth, VIP suites and a full chef’s kitchen.
“We very much want to be able to work with community organizations on their events,” says Spiotto. “And I am looking forward to working with as many of the local arts organizations as I can to bring innovative programming to the Suffolk Theater.” He has been meeting with Bay Street, Guild Hall and Gateway Theater to figure out how these performance venues might work together to further develop the rich cultural climate of the East End.
Spiotto is looking forward to one of the theater’s big events of summer when they host the First Annual Half-Way to New Year’s Eve celebration, featuring dinner and dancing to the Guy Lombardo Royal Canadians. It will be their first appearance in the New York area in over 30 years.
“There is so much anticipation from the people who pass by the theater that it is overwhelming,” Spiotto says. “So many people who have resided here for many years or relocated here seem to know about the space—and they are waiting for it to open again. There is a build-up of excitement, so if the interest and demand for more entertainment is there, we will be the supply.”