The father and son in contract to buy the closed Babylon Village cinema say they will reopen next spring with a slate of professional shows cast with Broadway players, along with concerts and other acts.
Seaford residents Mark and Dylan Perlman expect to close this summer on the former Bow Tie Cinemas’ building on Main Street, paying $1 million to the chain that owns the moviehouse and renaming it the Argyle Theater at Babylon Village. The Argyle would be Long Island’s second year-round professional theater, joining the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport.
The Perlmans said in an interview last week that they will invest about $1.5 million to build a stage, sound and lighting systems and drastically reconfigure the building’s interior. Contractors will tear down walls that now divide the space into three movie theaters.
About 100 seats will be removed, leaving 450. Part of the snack bar will be repurposed as a bar. Outside, the vertical sign over the marquee, spelling out “Babylon” in fluorescent blue letters but dark for years, will be fixed and relit.
Stagecraft classes for children and young people will be offered. They may even show a movie or two, continuing a business that sustained the house from 1922 to 2014, when it closed.
But the focus will be live performances of the caliber found 40 miles to the west in Manhattan, they said.
“This will be the closest thing to Broadway on Long Island,” said Dylan Perlman, 22, a Hofstra University graduate who started acting professionally as a child and has appeared in independent movies and TV’s “The Good Wife.”
He and his father, 62, a psychologist with a practice in Wantagh, plan six main-stage shows a season with Actors Equity casts.
The two began talks last week with the union. A contract would mean high-level players from Broadway stages, but also higher production costs.
The Argyle schedule will include classics in the vein of “West Side Story” and “The Music Man,” but not “Hamilton.” While many of the current hits tour nationally, licensing rules forbid productions close to New York City, Mark Perlman said.
Babylon Village Mayor Ralph Scordino this year called the deal “a home run for the village” that could anchor an already strong downtown business district with about two dozen bars and restaurants.
The Perlmans are making their move at a boom time for Broadway, which had $1.4 billion in ticket sales and drew an audience of 13.4 million this season, according to The Broadway League, the industry’s national trade association.
Long Islanders bought just fewer than 1 million tickets last season for Broadway shows according to the league, suggesting strong regional demand across Nassau and Suffolk counties.
Babylon’s Main Street will never be confused with the Great White Way, but the Perlmans are betting that can work in their favor. Argyle tickets will cost from $25 to $75, lower than the $103 average for Broadway.
Many of the village’s bars and restaurants are open late for a post-show supper or drink, minus the Manhattan crowds. Most municipal parking is free, and the Long Island Rail Road station is a quick walk from the theater.
Industry veterans say that the Perlmans, who are newcomers to the business, are entering a difficult but potentially rich market.
“We have an incredibly supportive audience who seem to support the work we do, but we are still in the middle of a recession, and theater is not the easiest business,” said Richard Dolce, producing artistic director of the Engeman Theater, now in its 10th year. “We survive on ticket sales. We have to pick the right shows and produce them as well as we possibly can and hold our breath.”
Alan Inkles, director of the Staller Center for the Arts at Stony Brook University, said that after 34 years in the business, he is working harder than ever to make season subscription sales, competing less with other theaters than a sea change in entertainment consumption, with much of the potential audience staying home and “binge-watching Netflix, watching the new season of ‘Game of Thrones.’ ”
The Perlmans admit that lenders initially responded to their plans with what Mark Perlman called a “healthy skepticism.” That changed, he said, “when they met with us, looked at our histories and we explained our vision, the people we’re putting together.”
They are convinced that they are selling something streaming entertainment can never offer: “People still yearn for social interaction, for face-to-face contact, to go out for the night,” Dylan said.