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Suffolk Theater Brings Old Hollywood Glamour To Main Street Extraordinary Restoration Of Historic Theater Draws "Swells & Mobsters"

Originally Posted: March 05, 2013

Edward Callaghan

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John & Tiffany Chmela with Georgia & Jerry Alexatos. (Photo: Edward Callaghan)

Klieg Lights shot through the skies as gleaming vintage Model A Fords pulled up to the vibrantly colored marquee to discharge top hatted gents and be-gowned and be-jeweled ladies at the grand re-opening of the historic landmark Suffolk Theater in Riverhead. For several hours on Saturday, Main Street was transformed into Hollywood Boulevard circa 1930s as the "swells" mingled with "mobsters and their molls" just as they did in Prohibition era America in the early '30s when the theater was first opened. To mark the resurrection of the Art Deco theater, owners Bob and Dianne Castaldi invited hundreds of their friends and supporters to don '30s regalia and come to a "Back to the Thirties" cocktail party featuring Grammy winning Vince Giordano & his Nighthawks of Boardwalk Empire fame.

Lynn DiMenna and executive director of the Suffolk Theater Bob Spiotto. (Photo: Edward Callaghan)

From a block away, one could hear the sweet strains of the Glenn Miller Orchestra piped through special speakers built into the colorful Art Deco marquee. As the theater had been closed for over 18 years, patrons were eagerly anticipating the first evening - and the Castaldis and their team did not disappoint.

"Newsies" in classic newsboy outfits hawked copies of the Suffolk Theater Times as doorman in gold braid-trimmed scarlet uniforms with tiny pill box caps artfully swung open the doors for the arriving guests and greeted all with a big smile. To the delight of the crowd that flooded Main Street, Charlie Chaplin, Shirley Temple, Mae West and Marilyn Monroe emerged from the vintage cars that lined the street in front of the theater!

In the main lobby bedecked with posters of movie classics from the last century, much loved WPPB Radio host Bonnie Grice was at her interview table to catch moments with the creative team such as Suffolk Theater's Executive Director, Bob Spiotto, a colorful performer in his own right. This month he will also be on the schedule. Spiotto, who has conceived, written and directed a musical review honoring the life and work of Danny Kaye called Courting the Jester, will perform in honor of Kaye's 100th birthday.

Inside the amber glow of the theater, crowds swarmed the elegantly appointed bars as scantily clad "cigarette" girls worthy of a Busby Berkley musical sold souvenirs and chocolate cigars. Vince Giordano and his extraordinary musicians quickly filled the dance floor playing Charlestons, and fox trots. Champion Dancers from "Dance with Us" performed the Quickstep, the Foxtrot and others. Even former NYC mayor, Fiorello H. LaGuardia made an appearance, - in reality it was the famed actor, Tony LoBianco who is currently playing LaGuardia in a one man show off-Broadway.

Southampton architect Richard Stott of Flynn Stott with his wife designer Diana Pepi Stott pointed out many of the original design elements from the bronze sconces to the period carpeting to the incredibly detailed wood work that trimmed the walls and the balcony.

Jared Goldstein and Rob Schlener greet Gala guests. (Photo: Edward Callaghan)


In 2006, Bob and Dianne Castaldi, builders who summered in Cutchogue for 26 years, had finally moved to the North Fork full time and purchased the theater with a vision of creating a state of the art performing arts center. "We found the theater through a little ad in the paper," she says. "The town was selling it and we fell in love with it." They decided to completely renovate and restore the space rather than demolish and rebuild and they have traveled the country looking at other historic theaters to learn about the process of restoration. "The detail was too beautiful not to do it."

It has been a long haul for the Castaldis with the project stalled for nearly three years by litigation between theater owners and the Town of Riverhead. After 5 long years of planning, negotiations and construction, the Suffolk Theater has emerges once again a jewel on the cultural landscape.

Cops 'n Robbers - Alan Schaefer and John Murray. (Photo: Edward Callaghan)

As the landmark Suffolk Theater first opened in 1933 in the post-Prohibition, Depression era, the evening celebrated the fantastic architecture, dress, music and food of the era; star chef Tom Schaudel whose critically acclaimed restaurants dot Long Island from up island to the North Fork created hors d'oeuvres that gave a true taste for the period such as mini Chinese to-go boxes filled with spicy noodles and seaweed salad, meatballs with a marinara dip, foods considered exotic at the time.

Among the guests who came from as far as Montauk to Rockville Center were Peconic Land Trust's Kathleen Kennedy and Dawn Haight, renowned vocal teacher Linda Amiel Burns, Billy Mack, Diane Stark, Kathy Weaver and Jan McKenna of Riverhead Faculty & Community Theater, Chris Robbins, Robbins Wolfe Eventeurs, realtor Beau Hulse and Bruce Michael, Executive Director, The Space at Westbury, another repurposing of an historic movie theater built in 1924 and slated to open this Spring.

After what co-owner Bob Castaldi half-jokingly described as "80 years" in the making, he and his wife Dianne were thrilled to be welcoming guests to the gorgeous performing arts center. "This little theater survived against all odds and it was restored against all odds" said Bob to reporters. "We were in front, but there were lot of people behind us".

In the coming weeks and months the Suffolk Theater will offer a little something for everyone. Programming features such diverse offerings as acclaimed singer Lynn DiMenna in an evening entitled "The Music of Dinah Shore", the National Circus Project, McLean Avenue Band & Emerald Fire Dancers, Happy Birthday Toscanini with the Bronx Opera Company, Swing into Spring, Big Band Dance and much, much more. For more information please visit www.suffolktheater.com or call 631-727-4343. The Suffolk Theater is located at 118 Main Street in Riverhead.


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QuiogueKid...

QuiogueKid from Springfield says::
As a former long-time Riverhead resident and enthusiastic supporter of the restoration of the downtown area, I welcome the rebirth of the Suffolk Theater and congratulate the Castaldi family for saving and persevering this architectural treasure. It will be a 'must visit' next time I'm back on the East End.
Mar 11, 2013 11:22 pm

 

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