The Curtain Goes Up on the Robins Theatre

WARREN, Ohio – There was glamour and excitement in the air for the grand reopening of the Robins Theatre.

Searchlights crisscrossed the sky in downtown Warren Thursday evening, and the new marquee of the 1923 theater shone its bright lights on the throng that had queued up to enter. Folks, some dressed in the garb of the theater’s early heyday, stepped out of vehicles for valet parking or strolled up the brightly lit sidewalks.

Everywhere, patrons were snapping photos and posing for selfies.

It was a red carpet night, and although the headliner was swing-era throwback act Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, the star of the evening was the Robins Theatre itself. The downtown venue’s $5 million restoration to its original grandeur is the handiwork of Warren native Mark Marvin, who bought the building a few years ago and renovated it through his Downtown Development Group.

The capacity crowd of 1,350 was first treated to a video that was made in the style of a newsreel. It showed vintage movie trailers and footage of the Robins Theatre at various phases in its history – including its closure in 1974 and the dismantling of its marquee.

When the reel moved on to its comeback, the crowd cheered.

Marvin, clad in a tuxedo, then took the stage to a standing ovation to introduce the key members of the renovation team. The theater’s original opening was also on Jan. 9, he pointed out.

“Ninety-seven years ago on this date, Dan Robins opened this theater to rave reviews and a big crowd like we see tonight,” Marvin said.

Cutting the ribbon was Robin Lake, a member of the Robins family whose mother helped cut the ribbon the first time in 1923 when she was 3 years old. Many of those in attendance at Thursday’s grand reopening concert recalled going to the Robins Theatre in the years before it closed, when it was used solely as a movie theater.

“My last memory was running up and down the stairs to the balcony, having too much fun, and my dad yelling out for me,” said Debbie Grimm of Cortland. “I was a kid, and that was probably right before it closed.”

Jeanne Smith, and her daughter, Rebecca Smith, both of Howland, attended the concert together. Jeanne bought the tickets as a birthday present to Rebecca.

“It is gorgeous,” said Jeanne. “To have this in Warren is amazing.” She pointed out that parking is free at nearby lots on show nights – something that would be unheard of in Pittsburgh or Cleveland.

Rebecca said the theater will boost Warren as a place for culture and the performing arts. “I’m excited to see what comes next,” she said.

Ken Haidaris and Tom Simpson are handling the entertainment for the theater. Haidaris, owner of the nearby Sunrise Inn restaurant, also stages the River Rock concert series every summer at Warren Community Amphitheater, while Simpson owns and operates Kent Stage in Kent.

“I’m not speechless too often but this is incredible,” said Haidaris of the opening night gala.

In his remarks to the audience, Haidaris said the project proved the naysayers wrong.

“A few years ago [when the project was announced], they said no one would come to downtown Warren, but look at it now,” he said.

Simpson, who is currently giving his Kent Stage a makeover on a much smaller scale, said he and Haidaris are working to bring a lot of good shows to the Robins.

Jeff Burke, who is the owner of The Record Connection in Niles, was among the first people to enter the Robins Thursday night.

“I am so impressed,” he said. “I was about the 30th person here because I wanted to take a good look at it. I went into every corner.”

Burke, of Niles, also recalled attending movies at the Robins when he was a child. “We also had a Robins Theatre in Niles, but I remember coming here, too. But I don’t remember it being this nice!”

The opening acts for Big Bad Voodoo Daddy were three Warren natives who have made names for themselves as professional musicians. Each of them – opera singer Cheryl Warfield, concert pianist Dana Morgan, and Nashville-based guitarist and singer Dennis Drummond – performed three songs.

Drummond had nothing but praise for the theater and noted its versatility, which is due in part to its size.

“It is so awesome,” he said. “It’s great to have a place like this in Warren where you can do so many things.”

Pictured above: Theatergoers line up to enter the Robins Theatre under its marquee on grand reopening night.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.