WEST WARWICK – Just in time for the holidays, The Arctic Playhouse has moved into its theater at 1249 Main Street – and what better way to celebrate than by inviting members of the public to enjoy a Christmas classic.
From tomorrow, December 2 to 19, the playhouse’s performance of “Miracle on 34th Street” is “full of magic and heart,” Ida Zecco, who heads music production, said last week.
“This is the story of what Christmas really is,” added Lloyd Felix, founding member of the Arctic Playhouse board of directors.
The production, which tells the story of Santa Claus from a department store claiming to be the real deal, will be presented as a radio musical, performed in the style of a live 1940s radio show.
The audience will be treated like a studio audience. The performers will be holding scripts, as they would have done about 80 years ago on a real radio show. The âApplauseâ and âOn Airâ signs will light up; the cast members will each play different roles.
âThe costumes are from the 40s [style]; the hair and makeup are all from the 40s, âZecco said.
The 12-person cast, which has been rehearsing since early October, is “awesome” in the show, Zecco added.
Although a few more modest performances have taken place in the adjacent cabaret club, “Miracle on 34th Street: A Musical Radio Play” is one of the first to take place in the main hall of the theater’s Main Street theater.
âWe are delighted to be here,â said Jim BÃ©langer, executive director of The Arctic Playhouse, standing with Zecco and Felix in the new space last week. âWe’re excited to go in the direction we want to go and still be able to keep it affordable. “
When The Arctic Playhouse moved to West Warwick in 2015, it moved into a comfortable 80-seat theater on Washington Street. The theater lived there for several years, but was finally ready for a separate space, where it could accommodate a larger audience.
Thanks in large part to grants from Centerville Bank and Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, the nonprofit theater was able to purchase a building a few blocks away at the corner of Main and Washington streets.
Felix admitted last week that he was initially skeptical about leaving Washington Street. But now he couldn’t be happier with the decision to move out.
âFirst of all, I love being here,â he said. âBut people, when they come in, they like the space. It’s very exciting to have that.
However, the transition was not easy.
Built over a century ago, the building at 1249 Main Street was in need of a major overhaul when The Arctic Playhouse moved in.
âWe take a grain and dry goods store from 1879 and try to turn it into a theater,â BÃ©langer said.
Renovations to the building began in 2018, and the cabaret club – painted in a dark shade of red, with a full bar, small stage, and plenty of table space – opened the following year. Cabarets are held there on the last Tuesday of each month and have become very popular, often sold out weeks in advance.
For a while, the performance hall continued to host its productions on the main stage in the original theater. But in September, after getting permission from the local building inspector and fire department to use the new space, the board decided to relinquish the lease at 117 Washington Street.
âAs it all fell into place, it was about time,â said BÃ©langer.
So far, the performance hall has used the main stage space to film a few radio shows and took up almost every seat earlier this fall on an 11-episode series of “Murder at the Howard Johnson” , the first live performance of the theater since before the pandemic.
While he’s now completely moved into the space, there’s still a lot of work to be done to make the main stage vision a reality.
The stage itself is currently not in the right position – it will eventually face the other way. There will be seating in the stadium, with room for 150 spectators on the first floor. A mezzanine, to be built later, will increase the capacity of the theater to 200; an elevator will be installed at some point.
The timing depends largely on funding, BÃ©langer said. Ticket prices cover about a third of what it costs to operate the volunteer-run theater, he said, while the rest comes from grants and other community supports.
The theater recently learned that it would receive a grant from the Champlin Foundation which will allow it to replace its leaky roof.
âThe real story is that there is a miracle at 1249 Main Street,â Zecco said of receiving funding, which in turn will allow the performance hall to install an HVAC system. âThe Champlin Foundation has just granted us $ 92,000 and now we are going to have a roof.
This type of support is crucial for the gambling house to be able to accomplish its mission. Since opening its doors in Arctic Village six years ago, it has strived to keep shows accessible to everyone – tickets to “Miracle on 34th Street” are only $ 15, or $ 20 if they are. purchased on the day of the show.
âThe arts are important,â BÃ©langer said. âI’m so excited that we can give back to the community, be a foothold in this great little village, and also be able to do so affordably.
For his part, Zecco gives back to the theater what she paid for his work as a director and for the animation of cabarets.
âI love this place,â Zecco said. âI grew up here. I went to West Warwick High School, and I had a teacher who believed in me, and I traveled all over the world on my art because of this teacher. I have this community. It’s my house.”
And while Zecco isn’t picky about performance venues, she said, finally running a show in The Arctic Playhouse’s new main theater is a nice feeling.
âCome and enjoy it,â she said of the play. “Feel the joy of the holidays – it really is a wonderful sight.”
“Miracle on 34th Street: A Live Musical Radio Play” will run from Thursday, December 2 to December 19. Tickets can be purchased by visiting thearcticplayhouse.com. Masks will be compulsory.