November 28, 2014
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Cranston's Park Theatre has arrived
Don Fowler

Standing in the lobby of Cranston’s renovated Park Theatre, also known as The Rhode Island Center for the Arts, at intermission, I listened to the comments of the first-timers.

“I never knew this was here.”

“This is that old movie house? It’s beautiful.”

“The acoustics are perfect. So are the sight lines, and the chairs are comfortable with plenty of leg room.”

So much for the critics, who held little hope for a performing arts center in Cranston.

The “build it and they will come” theory was a bit pie-in-the-sky, even for the biggest optimists. The Park had a rough start, with small audiences, lack of good promotion and marketing, and people from outside Cranston wary about entering unknown territory.

Cranston: the Center for the Arts? Don’t be ridiculous.

However, through the persistence of Executive Director Yusuf Ghandi and new Public Relations Director Mike Cerio, Cranston’s Park Theatre has arrived.

Three recent sell-out concerts: Robert Cray and Kenny Wayne Shepard, Buddy Guy and last week’s emotional, energetic and exciting melding of Dr. John and The Blind Boys of Alabama, have put the Park on the map as the place to go for top quality entertainment.

The secret was to seek out entertainers that guarantee an audience, and promote them to that audience. That was a problem in the first year, as quality acts that were unknown to Rhode Islanders and not promoted effectively drew small audiences.

Recent performances by Kevin Costner, Natalie McMaster, The Priests and Manhattan Transfer sought out and found their audiences, thanks to more aggressive promotion, resulting in few empty seats. With prices ranging from $35 to $55, free parking, and not a bad seat in the house, quality entertainment is now in the reach of most Rhode Islanders.

The Park closes out 2012 with one of the best known boys’ choir in the world, the Vienna Boys Choir, approximately 100 choristers between the ages of 10 and 14. We have heard them more than once, and plan on getting into the proper holiday mood listening to their angelic voices on Dec. 6 at 7:30 p.m.

The coming shows have special appeal to target audiences, but also offer entertainment for a larger, diversified audience.

Paco Pena, revered by the Spanish-speaking aficionados, offers an authentic taste of flamenco on Jan. 23.

Live at Birdland will attract big band music lovers, while giving Rhode Islanders a true NYC experience on Jan. 27. Rhode Island, and particularly Cranston, has a large Celtic heritage, and St. Patrick’s Day should be the place to be at the Park for “Celtic Nights – Journey of Hope.”

We’ve seen the Russian National Ballet Theatre in Moscow, but you just have to travel a few blocks to see them at the Park on April 13. Ghandi tells me there is much more to arrive in 2013, and we can’t wait.

See you at the Park.


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