Robins Theatre Shines as It Reopens After Renovation
By Guy D’Astolfo
WARREN – The look on people’s faces as they caught sight of the massive chandelier in the lobby of the Robins Theatre said it all. Stunned by its attractiveness as they entered, they were drawn to it and basked in its brilliance.
The Robins, a once-dilapidated and long abandoned downtown theater, opened its doors to the public Saturday night, offering folks the first look after a two-year, $5 million renovation.
Like its signature chandelier, the restored theater aims to draw people, according to Mark Marvin, whose Downtown Development Group purchased the structure and brought it back to life.
Marvin’s goal was to restore the Robins to its original grandeur, which he has done. The remake revels in details. Gold, green and red paint outline the intricate plaster designs along the ceilings, and the large back-lit wall openings on the orchestra level.
From the standpoint of a patron taking in a show, there is not a bad seat in the house. The theater has clear sight lines for all 1,350 seats.
Acoustically, it almost surpasses its visuals. The sound quality is excellent both on the main floor and in the balcony.
“That’s one thing I never worried about,” said Marvin, explaining that Vaudeville-era theaters such as the Robins were built with acoustics in mind.
Although Saturday’s concert, which featured Trans-Siberian Orchestra tribute act First Snow, had the feel of a premiere, it was actually the soft opening. The grand opening, a gala event that will feature a concert by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, will be Jan. 9.
Ken Haidaris, who is handling booking at the Robins, promised that the theater will be even better come that day. Between now and Jan. 9, LED track lighting will be installed in the floor along the aisles. There will also be further beautification of the trim, and a coat of black paint on the floor of the seating areas.
Work crews had to hustle to get the theater ready for Saturday’s soft opening, with crews working long hours in the days preceding it.
“Don’t lean against the wall because I’m sure the paint is still wet,” Haidaris told the audience in his opening remarks, drawing laughter.
Marvin had an air of satisfaction and relief. “We worked pretty much around the clock since Wednesday,” he said. “I’ve gotten maybe eight hours of sleep since then.”
Because the marquee had still not been erected Saturday, the exterior gave no indication of what was inside – further overwhelming folks as they entered the theater.
A steel frame has been erected to support the marquee, which will be installed within the next few weeks, said Marvin.
Saturday’s concert filled the theater to within a few dozen seats of capacity.
Marvin sees the Robins as the crown jewel of downtown Warren, which is undergoing a transformation into an arts and entertainment area. It lived up to his vision on Saturday.
Courthouse Square – decked out in lights for the holiday season – had a busy and festive atmosphere that made some concert-goers recall how the area once was.
For Beth Anderson of Warren, the new Robins Theatre brought back memories of going to movies at the venue in the 1960s, and of how lively the downtown used to be.
“It is just beautiful,” she said of the theater as she awaited the start of the concert. “So much work was put into it, and it is much nicer now than it was in the 1960s,” she said. “This is a shot in the arm for Warren and it will bring people back downtown.”
Anderson looked beyond the impressive chandelier to an ornamental fireplace in the balcony lobby. She hadn’t seen it in decades, and it brought back memories.
Warren native Nancy Lucik of Bristolville was in attendance, with her husband, Harry.
When the Robins closed in 1974, it was used solely as a movie theater, but the Luciks recall seeing concerts there in the 1940s.
“I saw the big bands here in 1945, including Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey and Kay Kyser,” said Nancy, who was once a teacher in Warren city schools.
Harry Lucik said the Robins was attractive in the 1940s, and it looked every bit as nice on Saturday.
“It was always a beautiful theater,” he said.
Robbins Theatre – First Snow
In the 1940s, he recalled, downtown Warren had five theaters, in addition to department stores such as Sears. “You could hardly walk on the sidewalks back then because it was wall to wall people,” he said.
Debbie Torisk of Struthers, who was there with her husband, Anthony, had never been in the theater before and had no memories to rekindle. But she was eager to see it for another reason.
“We have an interest in historical places, and love antiques and old buildings,” she said.
Jamison Cocklin of Pittsburgh, formerly of Youngstown, and his wife, Emmalee, who is the daughter of the Torisks, were lured to Saturday’s concert for a couple of reasons.
“We had wanted to see Trans-Siberian Orchestra but tickets were so pricey and we had been reading about how they were renovating this theater, so we decided to go,” he said.
Trans-Siberian Orchestra played at Covelli Centre in Youngstown on Nov. 15 and will play Pittsburgh’s PPG Paints Arena on Dec. 22.
For a list of shows coming to the Robins, and to purchase tickets, go to RobinsTheatre.com.
Copyright 2023 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.