The last time the Suffolk Theater in downtown Riverhead was open for business, “Dirty Dancing” played on its Art Deco-framed single screen. When it reopens Saturday night — after tomorrow's ribbon-cutting — the music emanating from the newly refurbished stage will reach back way before 1987, when “Dirty Dancing” was released. In fact, the music of Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, the opening night headliners, predates even the original debut of the Suffolk Theater in 1933 — the year Prohibition ended. “Footlight Parade,“ a Busby Berkeley musical starring James Cagney, played that night.
Bob Spiotto, executive director of the Suffolk Theater — resplendent in his gangster-style pinstriped suit when we interviewed him last week — is turning the grand reopening into a “Prohibition's over” party. Legal booze (assuming you're 21 or older) will flow in the theater's bars, upstairs and down. Costumed flappers and “gangsters” stepping out of period cars will add a '30s touch to the red-carpet arrival beneath the bright-lights marquee.
Inside, terraced nightclub seating — two to four patrons at each cocktail-style table — is not your average performing arts center configuration. And that's what Spiotto and the owners-developers of the new Suffolk Theater are counting on.
MAKING IT HAPPEN
Bob and Dianne Castaldi of Cutchogue are partners in marriage and on this project. Having moved to the East End in 1985, they have no connection with the theater's former life. And on first inspection when they bought the property eight years ago, Bob Castaldi's first reaction was: “Holy mackerel.“
That was meant as a comment both on the building's deteriorated condition and its spectacular possibilities.
“We've tried to replicate the glory that was in this place,“ says Dianne Castaldi. “That's our vision.“ From the lighting fixtures to the carpeting, the Suffolk Theater has undergone an old-is-new-again rebirth.
But neither the Castaldis nor Spiotto see the new Suffolk as a typical Long Island arts venue. “We've seen theaters struggle,“ says Bob Castaldi, a builder with a background in historic restoration. “We intend to succeed.“
To that end, “flexibility” has been a key word in the restoration. “We can go from movies to dances, fashion shows to art exhibits, concerts to weddings,“ says Bob Castaldi, leading a tour of the fully equipped basement kitchen.
Seating can be cleared out altogether, Castaldi says of possible reconfigurations. Or the nightclub tables can be replaced by interlocking rows of theater-style seats, raising the capacity to about 600. (Nightclub seating maxes out at about 400.)
TIME TO CELEBRATE
Spiotto has booked events almost every day in the theater's first month. Among the more unusual themed events is a screening next Thursday of the 1939 film classic “The Wizard of Oz,“ followed that night by a Wizard of OZZ concert by the Ozzy Osbourne tribute band — both timed before the release of Disney's “Oz: The Great and Powerful” March 8.
“Our idea is that there's always something to celebrate,“ says Spiotto, former director of Hofstra Entertainment and a frequent performer in the university's community arts-outreach program axed last year.
Among this month's celebrations are birthday tributes to Danny Kaye (his centennial, starring Spiotto), plus Rex Harrison, Lawrence Welk (did we mention the spacious dance floor?), Nat King Cole, Bach and Toscanini. Another “holiday” on the theater's calendar is its “halfway to New Year's” party June 29 — bringing the late Guy Lombardo's Royal Canadians big band back to Long Island for the first time in three decades.
“The sheer variety is, itself, a celebration of the arts in their varied glories,“ Spiotto says.
“We want to be a destination,“ he adds, “whether you're coming from the Hamptons or Hempstead.“
INFO suffolktheater.com, 631-727-4343