Park Theatre looks to become an RI institution

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Darlene Love’s most recent album is entitled Introducing Darlene Love, even though for many, she is one that needs no introduction. Over the course of her decades-long career, she’s won an Oscar, a Grammy and has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The album was named to indicate the reintroduction of the same Darlene Love to a new generation.

She’ll bring her holiday show “A Darlene Love Christmas – Love for the Holidays” to Cranston on December 9 at the Park Theatre.

The Park Theatre was built in 1924 and operated as a film and vaudeville house. In 2002 the theatre closed and spent seven years undergoing $10 million worth of renovations. It reopened in October of 2009 as a “multi-purpose performing arts center” featuring a variety of entertainment from concerts, comedy, theatrical performances, speakers, opera, dance recitals, children’s and family shows, movies, and more.

“We are doing everything we can to get people in here,” General Manager Yusuf Ghandi said. “We are trying our best to make this a community theatre, a theatre where people can come and know that it’s theirs.”

That goal seems to be successful; Ghandi had a young woman tell him that the theatre made her proud to be from Cranston.

In addition to being a landmark in the Rolfe Square community, the Park brings in a diverse array of shows for patrons to enjoy. Upcoming events include Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker, Coppelia: A Whimsical and Enchanting Love Story of a Dancing Doll, Artists’ Exchange’s 13 Annual production of A Christmas Carol, and Judy Collins – The Holiday & Hits Show.

Ghandi is proud of the venue’s comfortable atmosphere, which, when renovated, was outfitted with 1,000 luxurious red seats that have extra legroom and cup holders. Ghandi pointed out that there are no bad seats and that the sound quality is impeccable from all points. He has often heard artists remark on the high quality of acoustics and how close they are able to be to the audience.

Intimacy with the crowd is important to Love. She likes her fans to be able to see her face as well as being able to see all of theirs.

“Years ago a gentleman walked up to me after a show and said, ‘Would you please open your eyes when you sing so we can see what you see?’” she said with a hearty laugh. “I thought that was amazing. I never thought about that because a lot of times, we close our eyes when we’re singing. When our eyes are open they can actually see what we’re seeing. And you can only see that when you’re doing it at a small theater, an intimate theater. It gives you a whole other feeling.”

Though she’s no stranger to Rhode Island, calling it “a great and beautiful place to work,” Love hasn’t played at the Park before, but once she does, she may want to book a return engagement. Ghandi said he’s never had an artist say they don’t want to return.

Engelbert Humperdinck and the Beach Boys are among those who’ve visited the Park more than once, drawing crowds from all over. Ghandi spoke of a group from New York driving in whenever Humperdinck is performing.

Bill Lancaster, a music buff from Narragansett, has been attending events at the theatre since it reopened.

“I think when people walk into that theatre, they can’t believe what they see,” he said. “It has some of the best acoustics I’ve heard anywhere in the state.”

Lancaster said the Park brings in many acts he never got to see when he was younger, like Judy Collins, who he hopes to see when she plays there on December 23. He’s enjoyed shows like Brian Culbertson, Flo & Eddie, Blood, Sweat and Tears and Graham Nash. Lancaster remembers Nash noting how intimate the Park was and that he preferred playing this type of venue as opposed to larger ones with thousands of seats. Culbertson was an act Lancaster knew little about but went anyway and very much enjoyed the show. Ghandi said that’s what he hopes more people will do.

“That’s what we want this theatre to become. Even if they don’t know what show it is, they know it is a good show,” said Ghandi.

A “good show” is exactly what Love promises to bring, especially if those who attend help her make it so.

“My shows are what my audience makes them. I invite the audience to enjoy my show with me. If they’re enjoying me, I want them to get up, clap, and sing with me,” she said. “I never want anybody to leave my show thinking they shouldn’t have come or that they didn’t have a good time. I make sure they have a good time. That’s part of what I do.”

For information and tickets to Park Theatre events, visit www.parktheatreri.com.

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