Guild Hall, Bay Street Theater, Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, Gateway Playhouse, The Stephen Talkhouse—all the major East End performing arts venues have reopened in recent months to provide audiences with long-awaited live shows … well, all but one venue. Suffolk Theater, the North Fork bastion of live entertainment, is finally ready to welcome guests to its first show in a year and a half. The rockin’ sounds of the Lords of 52nd Street will reverberate through Riverhead on Friday, August 27.
With Suffolk Theater’s first show back so close, many thoughts and emotions run through director Dan Binderman’s head. “It’s been a long road. For those of us who are sustained by music and live entertainment, it’s been a hard year and a half,” he says. “Just to be back and celebrating with people is going to be amazing!”
Describing 2020 as “hard” is quite the understatement, and Binderman is quick to elaborate that at the start of the pandemic, some estimates predicted that a staggering 90% of venues would go under before it was over. With the future as murky as it was back then, securing funding without live performances was critical to the theater’s survival. Thankfully, Suffolk Theater was able to receive various grants, as well as additional support from those closest to it. “It was an effort by the owners, myself and various friends of the theater to try to keep it going,” Binderman says, adding, “I think the biggest thing was faith.”
While many venues turned to virtual programming during this time, Binderman felt that “the artists had it covered … but we helped promote best we could.” Instead, he waited until he could give audiences “the right experience” at Suffolk Theater, which includes the theater’s well-loved dining menu, which may offer new surprises come showtime. “We wanted to bring people back for the full, real experience, and I think we can do that now,” he says.
With the length of the pandemic uncertain, venues such as Suffolk Theater had to frequently reschedule acts for dates when they assumed the world would be back to some form of “normal,” and luckily, most of the Riverhead theater’s acts were able to be rescheduled for the actual reopening. “Anybody in this industry will tell you that after a year and a half, some of these shows have been moved four times,” Binderman says.
The reopening schedule is packed with both new acts and Suffolk Theater favorites through May 8. Selecting the Lords of 52nd Street, Billy Joel’s original band, as Suffolk Theater’s grand reopening show was a “conscious decision … that seemed like a good ‘welcome back, Long Island,’” Binderman reports.
Also this weekend is Eagles tribute Fast Lane on Sunday, August 29. Performing at this historic venue for the first time are Suzanne Vega on September 12, John Kay of Steppenwolf on September 19, Al Di Meola on September 24, Melvin Seals and JGB on September 26, The High Kings of Ireland on October 3, Popa Chubby and Roomful of Blues on November 21, Lee Greenwood on December 3, Gordon Lightfoot on December 15, Frankie Avalon on February 26 and several other first-timers. And comedy-lovers won’t want to miss the legendary Rob Schneider when he makes his long-awaited return to the Riverhead stage on October 17.
With over three dozen exciting shows scheduled for the coming months, Suffolk Theater’s reopening seems to be well worth the wait. Now that the theater is finally reopening its doors, all the major East End performing arts venues have made it through the worst the of the pandemic and will continue to provide world-class entertainment right here on the East End. “Thank you to the venues; thank you to the audiences; thank you to the artists—everybody for holding on,” Binderman concludes. “This has been a long time coming, and it is so important that we get back to celebrating.”
For tickets and more information about Suffolk Theater, visit suffolktheater.com.