By SHANNON WATKINS
“This is where I saw my first movie. It was a comic book movie as well, the Tim Burton ‘Batman’,” said Ben Buzzard, a Radford resident, standing in the aisle at the Radford Theatre. “I’m just really happy it’s still open.”
At the theatre’s Friday night grand premiere, similar sentiments could be heard both before and after the show.
“People were trying to raise funds and tried to support it to keep it afloat, and we were really disappointed when we found out it was going to officially close,” said local citizen Vanessa Harvey, out with her husband, Steve. “So, what a great surprise this was.”
Longtime fans weren’t the only people filling seats. “It’s wonderful! This is actually our first time we’ve come,” said Tina Boss, who has recently transplanted from Martinsville. She said of her daughter, Abigail, a Radford student, “She came here right before it closed. She told us how awesome it was.”
The Radford Theatre was scheduled to open for a preshow audience at 5 pm., but last-minute preparations held things off for a little over a quarter hour. No complaints came from the crowds, who waited eagerly while music provided by DJ Bobby Hash pounded the air and the inside of the theatre buzzed with frenetic activity.
Once inside, it was easy to see the original terrazzo floors in the lobby as promised, along with new walls, old movie poster reproductions and an expanded concession stand. The lobby was still fairly plain, with the old projector, promised as a piece of décor, not yet out in evidence, but the clean lines and fresh gleam of the recent renovation did not escape notice.
“It looks absolutely wonderful, not as run down as it used to,” said Radford resident Frankie Hayes. “It’s nice that you have two doors out front as opposed to the one that was blocked off.”
As promised, ticket prices did not exceed $6. Concession charges were fairly modest as well; the largest combo, made up of candy, a 44 oz. drink and large popcorn (both with free refills) was $9.50. A 16 oz. drink and small popcorn would set theatre-goers back only $5.50.
There was a pre-movie juggling act put on by Cyrus Pynn of “Jester’s Jubilee,” and, closer to showtime, a comical skit re-enacting the theater’s purchase and renovation by the theatrical troupe “Actors Without a Stage.”
After the skit, James Houston and Paul Pallante, two of the four co-owners, took the stage.
“Thank you, Radford! We love this town, we love the people in this town, we love this theater, and we’re so excited to have you guys here with us tonight to celebrate the re-opening of this amazing place,” said Houston, “a place for us to gather together as a community, to enjoy our main street, to revitalize and make things happen in this town, we are so excited, we know you guys are too, so we’re looking forward to another great 30 years!”
Pallante summoned realtor Jeff Price to the stage, telling the crowd, “Let me say he has gone above and beyond.” Houston thanked Price, saying, “Jeff has been with us 24/7.”
The three then led a chant of “Frankie! Frankie Frankie!” to draw former owner and current consultant Frankie Kirk to the stage as well. “Frankie’s been so great to help us and school us on this,” Houston told the audience. “It’s been magical to have him on this journey with us.”
After heartfelt thanks, the four unbuttoned their dress shirts to reveal Superman T-shirts underneath, to the crowd’s cheers, then exited for the film.
“Man of Steel,” a two hour and fifteen minute reboot of the Superman story, was met with enthusiasm and big reactions by the audience. Showtimes were set for 7 and 10:15 p.m., with weekend matinees at 3 p.m.
Afterwards, Price, out under the marquee for some fresh air, said, “I’m just excited for the community. It’s just been a long hard two weeks of work, turning the renovation around, and I just think all my team and all their team just meshed together and worked it out. It’s been a great accomplishment for the community and we’re excited about what it can bring to Main Street for the future. We just want the community to support it.”
Of the theatre’s current stage of renovation, he added, “There’s still probably a second and third phase that we need to do for this theater.” Price noted this was his first historical renovation.
Pallante, tired but enthusiastic, said about the evening, “It’s wonderful. We were expecting a good crowd, but this was above and beyond anything we could have expected. And just the mood of the crowd was so fantastic. I felt like everybody looking forward to the future and just to be where we are.”
Despite the promising start, the night and its work were far from over. Pallante smiled and said, “I think people really are ready for something new here in Radford,” and then went back inside for what the next show would bring.