If you are looking for a major success story in Rhode Island’s world of arts and entertainment, look no further than Woonsocket’s Stadium Theatre.
The 18th century neo-classical building opened in the center of the thriving industrial city in 1926 as a vaudeville house. There were three shows a day, seven days a week back then, with international entertainers like Al Jolson, Will Rogers and Charlie Chaplin gracing the stage and silent movies filling the screen.
The Stadium got its name from being one of the early stadium seating theatres, which made it easy for all patrons to see the stage.
Alas, vaudeville died, the old mills closed, and the theatre, like Providence’s Columbus Theatre, turned to X-rated movies to pay the rent before closing its doors in 1985. Like the Providence Performing Arts Center, the old, neglected building faced the wrecking ball in the early 1990s until a forward-thinking Mayor Francis Lanctot started a Save the Stadium campaign and raised over $3 million in 1998, formed a non-profit foundation, recruited hundreds of volunteers and donors, and in 2001 the building had been successfully renovated.
Today, the Stadium Theatre fills more dates and brings more entertainment to northern Rhode Island than must venues in the state.
We recently traveled “all the way” to Woonsocket from Cranston, up Route 95 to Route 146, through Park Square and straight into the center of the city (20 miles/a half hour to drive and park for free) to see the Glenn Miller Orchestra. Walking through the entranceway and into the lobby was like going back to the Glenn Miller of the ’40s. There’s not a bad seat in the auditorium and the sound is excellent. Last season, over 100,000 people enjoyed an event at the theatre.
Professional world-touring artists like Liza Minelli, Cher and George Winston have played the Stadium. The Farrelly Brothers premiered their hit movie, “There’s Something About Mary,” there.
Coming up, Ed Asner is bringing his one-man comedy stage show there on August 19, with a wide variety of entertainment scheduled for the fall including country star Sara Evans, the Marshall Tucker Band, the New Shanghai Circus and many tribute bands. You can check out upcoming shows online at stadiumtheatre.com, pick a show that interests you, and enjoy this gem of a theatre.
While you’re there, you may want to check out Chan’s, our favorite place for “Egg Rolls and Jazz,” just two blocks down Main Street.