The Regent Theatre in Arlington, Massachusetts has accomplished a rare feat in entertainment. On Sunday, April 24, Regent Theatre celebrates 100 years with Regent Theatre Centennial Gala, a night of live performances and a wealth of surprises to celebrate this historic feat, kicking off at 7 p.m. Co-owners Leland Stein and Rick Stavos talk about the highlights of Regent Theatre’s 100 years and its future plans. Click here for tickets and more information.
Jeanne Denizard: How did you both get involved with the Regent Theatre and what makes it so unique? Why was Arlington chosen and not necessarily inside the city of Boston?
Richard Stavros: I started at the Regent in 1993. Later in the 90s, Regent owner Richard Sacco put the theatre up for lease and it came very close to becoming a gym or restaurant. I approached Sacco and together we came up with a concept to keep the Regent going as a movie house and live theater. Soon I began promoting the venue as the ‘Regent Theatre Performing Arts Center,’ hosting a variety of programming including Bollywood films catering to the area’s burgeoning Indian population.
Leland Stein: I’ve lived in Arlington for 35 years and was out of work. My career in the record business was going down the tubes with the advent of digital entertainment in 2001. I read in the Arlington Advocate that Gary Adelson had bought my hometown theater, the Regent. I sent him an email saying I could help him with marketing and publicity and became part of the team right away.
JD: In this day and age, a theatre celebrating 100 years is quite a feat! How did you decide what acts to put on for the Centennial Gala with such a wealth of history to choose from.
LS: When we found out the exact grand opening date, I decided it would be cool to recreate the opening night from 100 years ago with an exclusive screening of Mary Pickford’s ‘Rags,’ the same silent film that opened the Regent in 1916. Since Vaudeville Theater was also big at the time, I programmed and produced a live vaudeville-inspired show to accompany the film and complete the celebration. The acts are comprised mostly of performers who have played the Regent stage over the past 15 years with acts that are “vaudevillian” in nature.
JD: What are a few highlights of the Centennial Gala on Sunday, April 24?
LS: Hosted by WBZ Radio’s Jordan Rich with a special appearance by comedian Jimmy Tingle, the exclusive movie screening features live accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based performer specializing in creating live music scores for silent film presentations. The Regent will stage a Vaudeville inspired variety show featuring an eye-popping, hysterical routine from Alex Feldman, aka Alex the Jester. Alex is a maestro at playing renaissance recorders in unorthodox ways.
Other highlights include a colorful burlesque number from the fabulous Busty Keaton, high-energy, off-the-wall comedy juggling from Airborne Comedians, an acrobatic performance from Chloe Walier involving stiletto heels and champagne bottles, a terrific tap dance routine from the lovely Legacy Dancers, an impossible Houdini escape from Bob the Magic Guy, and a “Groucho Marx” musical reenactment from actor and singer, Jerry Bisantz. Staff and patrons will be dressed in period attire, Regent memorabilia will be on display, period candy will be sold at concession, and even an antique 1916 Model T auto will be parked out front!
JD: You have offered a variety of acts over the years. What would you consider the most memorable? What kind of surprise acts did you come across? Any acts that you didn’t expect to show or were so outlandish that you didn’t think you would actually promote it and you did?
LS: Too many to mention! There have been extraordinary performances like the Boston premiere of ‘Sin: A Cardinal Deposed’ about Cardinal Law and the clergy abuse scandal, Mickey Rooney’s 85th Birthday celebration weekend in 2005, “Honeyboy” Edwards: Delta Blues Legend and contemporary of Robert Johnson performing close to the age of 100 not long before his death, and Folk Blues icon Odetta. A personal favorite was British Rock Legends, The Zombies who were performing 50 years after they started.
The most unusual and unexpected “show” we ever had was Herb Reed’s funeral! Herb Reed & the Platters were the biggest selling doo-wop group of the ‘50s selling more than a million records than Elvis. Herb lived the last 20 years of his life in Arlington and performed a couple of times at the Regent. When I got the call from his manager or executor asking if we had next Saturday available, a miracle that we did, I thought he was talking about a tribute concert, but, no, he clarified it would be an actual funeral. Never thought I’d be dealing with funeral directors for an event where we had to remove the first row of seats to allow for legal clearance to pass by the casket. Local legends attended like Little Joe Cook, Rex Trailer, and Bowser from Sha Na Na. It was an amazing experience.
We had Chicago blues harmonica legend James Cotton one time and the fire alarm went off when one of his entourage lit up backstage. They kept playing while the emergency lights were flashing and couldn’t hear the alarm right away. We evacuated the sold-out crowd in orderly fashion and continued after the fire dept. cleared the way!
Last but not least, the ‘Amazing Acro-cats Cat Circus’ we had last summer. Who knew that cats could be trained to perform circus feats, but it’s true. Never thought we’d have cats performing on our stage let alone a ground hog and rooster. Plus, after an evening show, one of the cats went missing. We had to lock up the theater and leave for the night. The circus emcee said it was fine and it would be there in the morning. Well, that was all good until it set off the motion detector in the middle of the night!
JD: Sounds like it has been incredible! How has the theatre evolved over the years?
LS: We have evolved into a combo community theater and performing arts center that still presents special film events on the big screen as well. We continually rent the theater to groups and organizations for fundraisers and hosted events for cultural and community groups as diverse as the Tibetans, Nepalese, Bulgarians, Russians, and Brazilians, to name just a few. We’ve kind of become the International House of Performing Arts and Film or the United Nations of Venues. For example, last year we were a host venue for both the Boston Jewish Film Festival and Boston Palestine Film Festival!
JD: This is a historic year! What special performances are featured this season?
LS: This season, legendary rock drummer Carl Palmer of Emerson Lake and Palmer, British Rock Legends The Yardbirds now featuring Boston guitar Ace, Johnny A, The Boston film premiere of the making of the first Star Wars film ‘Elstree 1976.’ Another highlight is actor, writer, producer, and warm up comedian’s Bob Perlow’s ‘Tales from Hollywood,’ the Boston Premiere of the hysterical, interactive, one man show featuring a behind-the-scenes look at 35 years in show business highlighting his countless encounters with Hollywood celebrities. Also featured is the nationally-renowned a Cappella group, Five O’Clock Shadow presenting their 25th Anniversary show.
JD: Now that you have hit 100 years, what plans do you have for the Regent in the future?
LS: We’ll continue to try and survive in a challenging business by continuing to do what we’re doing and staying true to our roots as a vibrant, unique entertainment center and community resource or “Arlington’s Show Place of Entertainment”. Also, at the Gala on Sunday, we’re announcing the formation of the ‘Friends of the Regent Theatre (FORT)’ which will enable us to apply for grants to restore some of our original features like the gold proscenium arch. Most of the gold proscenium arch was hidden by an ugly dropped ceiling put in during the energy crisis of the ‘70s and was part of the original tin ceiling and chandelier above. We’ll continue to revive and program the ‘Regent Underground Theatre (RUT),’ a flexible space or black box theater formerly a bowling alley and billiards hall below the main theater. We’ll create a connecting stairway between the two venues, an auxiliary dressing room, and more.
Attend the Regent Theatre Centennial Gala, 7 Medford Street in Arlington, Massachusetts. Click here for tickets and follow Regent Theatre on Facebook!