The fate of the Greenwich Odeum Theatre on Main Street in East Greenwich has been uncertain for many years, but on Jan. 26, the former vaudeville playhouse will light the lights and raise the curtain once more.
In the wake of the devastating Station Nightclub Fire, fire codes throughout the state were strengthened, making business as usual impossible for older buildings like the Odeum. Faced with the daunting task of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of fire code updates, the Odeum opted to close its doors instead.
Since 2007, the theatre has been silent and dark. Those on the Odeum’s board fought to keep the theater on the tax exempt list, working closely with the town of East Greenwich to ensure that the historic landmark didn’t fall into the red – something that would have made this month’s re-opening impossible. For several years, it looked as if the Odeum would remain in limbo, or be sold off and turned into commercial space.
But in 2010, fire code laws were adjusted, and theaters with less than 500 seats were once again permitted to have incomplete sprinkler systems at the discretion of the Board of Fire Commissioners. The Odeum fell into that category, and the gears for re-opening began to turn.
Over the last 18 months, the Odeum has undergone extensive renovations. The seats were uprooted and replaced; a new firewall was built at the rear of the stage, and cosmetic repairs were made throughout the building. Frank Prosnitz, president of the Odeum Theatre Corporation, said they have spent upwards of $200,000 on renovations, with the bulk of the funding from a Champlin Foundations grant of $142,000. Proznitz said the theater now sits 410 people, with eight additional handicap accessible spots.
At the end of this week, the fire marshal will visit the Odeum for one last inspection to provide a certificate of occupancy.
Though the date of the re-opening has been tossed around for a couple of years, the day, time and entertainers have finally been set.
On Jan. 26, the theater will debut their renovated space with a celebration of Rhode Island performing artists. The performance will feature trumpet player Richie Price; vocalist Phoebe Madden; Grammy-nominated flutist Skip Healy; Frank Sinatra impersonator Chris Jason; Mixed Magic Theatre; the gospel music of Refined 313; and Larry Brown’s Swinglane Orchestra.
“It’s a real celebration of the arts in Rhode Island,” Prosnitz said.
Prosnitz said he is open to discussions with community groups that formerly used the space, and hopes the Odeum can once again bring a vibrant selection of local and national talent to Main Street.
The Odeum has performers lined up for February. The Greg Abate Quartet, with special guest saxophonist Phil Woods, will play jazz on Feb. 9. Chris Jason will return on Feb. 16 and there will be a night of music by composer Enrico Garzilli Feb. 22-23. In March, a Celtic group, Cherish the Ladies, will visit the Odeum on the 10th, and Cleveland Signstage Theater’s production of “The Ugly Duckling” will come to Rhode Island on April 14.
“We’re very excited about it,” said Prosnitz. Though he knows there were a lot of bumps in the road, Prosnitz said the process still went fairly quickly, considering the size and scope of the renovations. “It feels great.”
Tickets for the Jan. 26 performance and other events can be purchased online by visiting www.theodeum.org, or by calling 885-4000.