There was no red carpet, no fashionable celebrities posing for paparazzi outside its ticket booth, and no revolving spotlights shooting thick beams of light into the night sky above Radford — nevertheless the premiere night of the newly renovated Radford Theatre, and the debuts of its new ownership team and summer blockbuster “Man of Steel,” had eager moviegoers lined up in droves down the Main Street sidewalks.
Some came in costume, several sporting the iconic red “S” emblazoned on blue T-shirts — including new owners Josh Riggs and James Houston— a few were even sporting bright red capes. Others, such as new owner Paul Pallante, came dressed in suits, tuxedos and top hats. Notably absent from the owner group was Mohsin Kazmi, but a performing troupe, calling themselves “Actors Without a Stage,” improvised a skit onstage prior to the first showing, making a mock call to Kazmi in New Jersey, which brought laughter from the near-sellout crowd.
The new owners and several volunteers ensured the event went off without a hitch, manning the ticket booth, the concessions stand, and ushering patrons to their seats. Former owner Frankie Kirk, who operated every aspect of the theatre for 30 years before retiring in April, said he was blown away by the turnout. Kirk has been helping the new owners transition into the business, and was volunteering at the concessions stand throughout the evening.
“This is something else,” Kirk remarked, himself wearing a Superman shirt as well. “They worked hard to make this happen.”
Volunteer Ozzie Lane, frantically trying to keep pace with the line of hungry movie fans, which at one point stretched from the concessions stand all the way out the front door and onto the sidewalk, said while she and the rest of the crew had anticipated and prepared for a large turnout, actually seeing the number of people coming through the front doors amazed them.
“We’re just doing what we can,” she said.
Sarah Wylie, who had worked alongside various contractor crews in the days leading up to the premiere, said everything came together at just the right time.
“It was frantic — we were all scrambling to get all the renovations and construction finished up and cleaned in time. I think I worked 17 hours here yesterday — we were working until 5:15 (p.m.) today and didn’t stop until people started walking in,” Wylie said.
Not everything went as planned, Wylie said. The new digital projector, which the owners purchased to replace the aging 35mm reel-to-reel projector in order to keep up with the ongoing push in the industry toward digital formatting, malfunctioned earlier in the week.
“That was the big panic moment,” Wylie remarked. “The new projector just stopped working. We can’t show a movie without it — we had to overnight one, and it got here just in time.”
Houston and Riggs, anchoring the concessions, were equally as relieved and impressed with the way things turned out.
“This is great — we’re pretty close to selling out the seats,” Riggs said. “I haven’t been able to move from this register all night.”
Houston, filling cups with soda and ice, agreed. “It’s been unbelievably outstanding the amount of support we’ve gotten, and now this — I couldn’t be happier about it.”
Pallante, who was working the crowd, greeting longtime fans and first-timers alike, likened the push toward the theatre’s grand opening to one of the many movies the theatre hopes to screen down the road — the introduction of the characters, the conflict that propels the story (the need for renovation), the coming together of outside forces to accomplish a mutual goal and overcome obstacles, and beating the clock just in time to put on a show and celebrate how far the characters have come in such a short time.
“It’s madness — wonderful, creative madness,” he said. “It’s been incredible seeing so many people coming together to make this happen in such a short time, and for us to be able to keep the core of the building, its architecture and historical value intact. I’m so thankful for that.”
Early Friday evening Pallante was informally polling patrons, gathering information on what they thought about the renovations to the theatre – the new concessions area, the old carpet gone and floor below polished, the construction around the concessions area, and others.
“So far I’ve heard nothing but positive reactions for the look and feel of this place,” he said. “This is just Phase 1 though — there’s so much more to be done to keep this place life and rolling.”
Eventually, the gang will ready and use the stage for live theatre and musical performances, likely beginning at the end of the month.
By Aaron Atkins