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Robins earns raves at first show

Photo by Andy Gray Audience members head to their seats minutes before the first event at the restored Robins Theatre.

WARREN — Mark Marvin got his wish Saturday.

The developer has been saying since he purchased the Robins Theatre in 2017 that the moment he was waiting for was seeing the reactions of people once they saw the former theater restored.

After two years and close to $6 million, more than 1,200 people filed into the downtown theater for its first event in 43 years.

“It feels pretty good,” Marvin said. “It’s everything I expected, probably more.”

Saturday’s event was billed as a soft opening and featured Trans-Siberian Orchestra tribute act First Snow. The official grand opening is Jan. 9, 2020, exactly 97 years after the theater first opened its doors in 1923.

There’s still plenty to be done before that event. Sunrise Entertainment President Ken Haidaris, who is booking entertainment for the venue, joked that people shouldn’t touch the walls. The paint still may be wet.

“You’ll see a lot of cosmetic changes between now and Jan. 9,” Haidaris said.

One thing that wasn’t in place Saturday was the marquee. Marvin said they had to apply for a variance for the marquee, which delayed its installation by more than a month. By the time it was approved, there were more pressing needs indoors that demanded attention.

Robert Felix, project manager on the restoration, said before the show that he’d been at the theater since 4 a.m., and he expects another month of long days. But he clearly was proud of what they’d accomplished.

“What you’re seeing is the vision of many people coming together,” Felix said. “This truly is a gift from Marvin to the city of Warren … Look at the empty buildings on Vine (Avenue) and other places downtown. In less than a year-and-a-half, you’ll see that start to change, and it all starts from this.”

The project earned rave reviews from many attendees, who were greeted by Santa and Mrs. Claus as they entered the theater.

“I’ve been hoping and waiting impatiently for years for this to happen,” said Irene Makridis of Warren, who was pretty sure the last of many movies she saw at the old Robins was the Ryan O’Neal-Ali McGraw film “Love Story.” “I’m so impressed. This is fantastic.”

Deb Lavelle of Niles also remembered coming to see movies there as a child.

“That was back when it was safe to drop your kids off at the movies downtown,” Lavelle said. “It’s beautiful. They’ve done a fantastic job restoring it.”

Gwendolyn Morgan of Warren was checking out the new venue for her daughter, pianist Dana Kristina-Joi Morgan, one of the homegrown performers who will be part of the opening night festivities.

“I told her, ‘Oh my God, you’re going to love it,” Morgan said. “It’s just like the places you’ve played around the country. It’s amazing.

Paula Smith, a Warren native who now lives in Girard, said she has fond memories of her father bringing her to the theater when she was a child.

“It’s magnificent,” Smith said. “They did a great job. I’m coming back for a number of shows.”

She already has front-row center seats for the musical “The Rocky Horror Show,” which will be staged in October 2020 by the Millennial Theatre Company, a local theater troupe that will call the Robins home after using a variety of different performance spaces over the years.

Kevin Bennett, founder of First Snow, said before the show that he was impressed with the acoustics during the band’s sound check.

“It sounded great,” he said. “The sound system they got is amazing.”

agray@tribtoday.com

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