Monday, August 31, 2009

Thanks to You, Showcase Has Extended Our Run!

Thanks to everyone who came out and saw 'The Tent' at Showcase Cinemas this weekend. We had steady crowds, so steady that our film finished 3rd among ALL movies for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday! We are so grateful and urge you all to tell your friends and family about the movie.

We are also excited to announce that our friends at National Amusements notified us this morning that because of your gracious response, they are extending our run at Showcase until September 10. So if you have already seen the movie, please go enjoy the fun again and if you haven't, make sure you get out there and experience the magic. Thank you all again!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Top Billing at Showcase!

We are so thankful to Rick Davies and Steve Cooper of National Amusements who have been incredibly supportive of our film project. To have 'The Tent' show at the movie theater that I grew up going to (and just down the street from where the Warwick Musical Theatre used to stand) is exciting. But to have our movie receive the top spot on the marquee is humbling. Thanks again to our friends at Showcase Cinemas Warwick, and to everyone who went to see 'The Tent: Life in the Round' this weekend! (Our run goes through this Thursday!)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Another Great Review for 'The Tent!'

by Joyce & Don Fowler
Aug 28, 2009

(Priceless Warwick memories)

The Warwick Musical Theatre, aka The Tent, was an important part of the Fowlers’ lives from 1965 until its closing in 1999. I covered “The Tent” for the Warwick Beacon and the Cranston Herald from 1977 until its final concert. I cried when Vince Gill sang his final song, well after midnight on that warm summer evening. Like most Rhode Islanders, Joyce and I have fond memories and a barrel full of stories about the best entertainment Rhode Island ever had to offer.

Thanks to Larry Bonoff and Brian Jones for making this wonderful documentary that recalls the highlights of the Warwick Musical Theatre, from the first shovel-full of dirt removed from the cow pasture on Route 2 to the night the revolving stage stopped spinning. While the movie is a nostalgic look back at the building and its evolution from a tent to a more permanent structure, plus a look at many of the “stars who came out at night,” it is primarily about people: the people who ran it, the people who worked there, the people who sat in the uncomfortable canvas chairs in the sweltering heat, and the people who performed.

Larry Bonoff pays a loving tribute to his parents, Buster and Barbara, who were more than theatre managers and booking agents. They were friends to Rhode Islanders and to the entertainers that visited Warwick, played golf with Buster, and dined with family and friends at the much-missed Golden Lantern. Bonoff and Jones have uncovered vintage television and video footage of performances, from Jack Benny to Johnny Carson, to a plethora of singers, comedians, actors and musicians who were truly “up close and personal.”

We see Liberace holding out his ring to be kissed by a lady in the audience. We’ll always remember his remark, “Go ahead. Take a good look. You paid for it.” The funniest sequence shows Howie Mandel at one of his many Warwick performances, chasing a moth around the stage. It lands in a precarious spot on his body. Then he spots a huge bug on the leg of a young lady sitting in the front row. What happens next is worth the price of admission. Mandel, a close friend of the Bonoffs (as were most of the performers), did promos for the movie, taped a special opening night welcome, and played an important part in the movie.

If you go online to, you can follow the history of the Warwick Musical Theatre, with photos and program covers from every year. But if you want to feel the excitement, caring and love for the entertainers and patrons that Barbara and Buster displayed, you must see the movie. Bonoff, in addition to showing many highlights, takes the time and effort to pay tribute to the employees, many of whom admitted that they would have worked for nothing. The movie is interspersed with “talking heads” reminiscing about their favorite stars, funniest moments, meeting and falling in love at The Tent and experiences behind the scenes.

There are great interviews by Wynonna, Vince Gill, Huey Lewis and dozens of others. It is interesting to see footage of their performances and then see them as they are today. Carrot Top has grown up. Engelbert has grown old (the audience gasped when they saw him being interviewed). Wynonna has grown. And Howie Mandel has lost his out-of-control head of hair.

There is so much more that can be said about this wonderful movie. Even if you weren’t one of the thousands fortunate enough to have the “tent” experience, go see the movie and get a feel for why people still wish it were still here. One of the main reasons was the Bonoff family. Larry and Brian (who started as an usher at the theatre) have captured the spirit of Barbara and Buster, who must be looking down on them with their sincere humility, saying “Great job!”

“The Tent: Life in the Round” will be shown at the Warwick Showcase for a week, opening this Friday. Hopefully, there will be more showings scheduled in the future. Note: This is the first “biased” review I have ever written. I had my 15 seconds of fame near the end of the movie, where I am interviewed for my comments on reviewing Vince Gill’s closing night performance. The film is not rated, but it is OK for all ages. Bring the children and show them what the good old days of quality entertainment was like.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Premiere Weekend Was a Smash!

Well folks, after months of preparation, hard work, and planning, the premiere weekend of 'The Tent: Life in the Round' is in the books. And what an exciting few days of festivites we had. Our friends at the Providence Performing Arts Center rolled out the red carpet for us, literally, and helped us throw one heck of a party.

It was amazing to see years of work finally come to life on the big screen. We had a packed house of theater-goers and Warwick Musical enthusiasts who came to watch the world premiere of our film. 630 WPRO's very own Ron St. Pierre and Buddy Cianci kicked off the evening as our emcees and introduced Larry Bonoff and me for a few quick words. Once we were done, the lights went down and we were off.

After the show, many of the audience members attended the post-show reception in the PPAC lobby and got to meet the filmmakers, those in the movie, and catch up with so many faces from Warwick Musical Theatre's past. It was an incredible night of fun and memories and we are so grateful to everyone who was able to be a part of the magic.

And last night, the film was shown at the Stadium Theatre in Woonsocket for an exclusive one-night engagement and the reaction there was extremely positive as well. Thanks to everyone who came out last night also.

Our film takes a break for 4 days until it begins a week run over at Showcase Cinemas Warwick (Quaker Lane) on Friday, August 28. We hope to see you there and look for some exciting announcements in the coming days too. Thank you again for all of your support!

Friday, August 21, 2009

One Final Push!

Larry Bonoff continued the frenetic marketing push for one final day today as we make the final turn toward the finish line of the premiere tomorrow night in Providence. He made the rounds on local television and radio (seen here with 630 WPRO program director Paul Giammarco this morning) affiliates talking about the film and what promises to be a wonderful and memorable premiere night. We want to thank all of our media friends who have been so supportive and helpful throughout this entire project!

The Stars Are Shining!

We are so excited to announce that our film, 'The Tent: Life in the Round' received the highest rating possible by Providence Journal movie critic Michael Janusonis - 5 stars. We are humbled and honored by this review (check it out below if you haven't already) and hope you will feel the same way after you see the movie. Less than 24 hours to go! Hope to see you tomorrow night at PPAC. And for those that cannot be there, please subscribe to my twitter feed (wmtmovieguy) for real time updates throughout the night!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Great Video Piece on WJAR Tonight!

Thanks to our friends at WJAR-10 in Providence, Rhode Island who produced a wonderful piece that appeared tonight on their newscast. Included was footage from our film, an interview with Larry Bonoff, and narration from our movie's narrator, Patrice Wood. Please check it out here.

As we head into our final day of media blitz (Larry is on so many television and radio stations tomorrow I can't keep them all straight), we pause to thank everyone who has sent us positive messages of support and has purchased tickets to the premiere Saturday night. If you haven't, we hope you will because it will be a very special and memorable evening to be sure.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

3 Days to Go!

It's amazing to think we are mere hours away from the premiere of our film on Saturday night at 7pm. But here we are. As I write this, the final final final cut of the film is being encoded and processed. Jim Karpeichik and I made changes and tweaks literally up to the end, and we are pleased to report that a surprise appearance made it into the film. We hope you enjoy. Lots going on but just to remind everyone, our premiere weekend of events includes:

  • The Premiere at Providence Performing Arts Center, 7pm, Saturday, August 22. VIP tickets for $35 are still available which will get you into the film, to the post-show reception, and a few collectible trinkets to commemorate the night. $10 tickets are also available. (How cool does the marquee at PPAC look?)
  • On Sunday, August 23, the film will be shown at the Stadium Theatre in Woonsocket, tickets are $12.50. VIP tickets which include dinner at Chan's are also available.
After this weekend, the film will move to the Showcase Cinemas Warwick movie theater for a week run beginning Friday, August 28 and running through Thursday, September 3 which coincides with the 10th anniversary of Warwick Musical Theatre's closing in 1999.

Beyond that, stay tuned to for information about upcoming showings at various film festivals and other venues. We hope to see you at the movies!

Our First Review is In!


Liberace, right, played The Tent for 16 straight years, from 1964 to 1980. He’s shown here on the Warwick Music Theatre stage in 1979 with Alexander Tomasso III of Providence. (Providence Journal files)

THE TENT: Life in the Round Is An Ovation to Warwick Musical Theatre

01:00 AM EDT on Friday, August 21, 2009

By Michael Janusonis
Journal Arts Writer

If you lived in Rhode Island at any point in the second half of the 20th century, The Tent was more than likely a part of your summertime life.

The Warwick Musical Theatre, which was known to most Rhode Islanders as “The Tent” even long after it was replaced by an actual building in 1967, was where from 1955 to 1999 you had the chance to sit in uncomfortable canvas seats, swelter in the un-air-conditioned sultry heat and be entertained by the likes of Mitzi Gaynor, Paul Anka, Bobby Vinton, Mel Tillis, The Beach Boys, Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Johnny Carson, Buddy Hackett, Joan Rivers, Victor Borge, George Burns and too many more to mention. And all for a ticket price that now seems like peanuts compared with what’s charged today.

The Tent itself has been gone for an entire decade, the victim of performers fleeing to bigger amphitheaters and better-paying casino venues. But the memories linger and come alive again in THE TENT: Life in the Round, which will have its world premiere at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Providence Performing Arts Center. It’s a feature-length documentary tribute to the theater, the Bonoff family that ran it for all those years, the many artists who played there and the crew that worked tirelessly behind the scenes, more for love than money, to make sure the show did go on.

You may not realize just how many memories you have stored about the place until you sit through THE TENT, which was directed, written and co-produced by Washington, D.C., filmmaker Brian Jones. He used a treasure trove of archival footage from local TV stations, the Rhode Island Historical Society and memorabilia and photos from the collection of Larry Bonoff, son of the theater’s founders, all flawlessly edited by Emmy-winning filmmaker Jim Karpeichik and narrated by Patrice Wood. It’s a warm-hearted, endearing portrait of a place where everyone who worked there came together every summer, year after year, as one big happy family to present the kind of performers one could only see at the time on television or in the movies.

There are shots of the crew putting up the tent and of the two-poled tent itself surrounded by what were then cow pastures on Route 2 in Warwick. There are memories of the early summer stock shows, which went big-time in August 1963 when the theater finally brought in a real star — Anna Maria Alberghetti — to perform in West Side Story. There’s singer Gisele MacKenzie arriving at the theater in a helicopter. Betsy Menders, daughter of Buster and Barbara Bonoff, recalls that on rainy days they’d go over the canvas seats (“The most uncomfortable seats in the world”) with hair dryers to get out the dampness. There are shots of after-show parties at the nearby Golden Lantern restaurant with the likes of Tony Bennett, Bob Newhart, George Burns and Liberace, who became a houseguest of owner Rose Farina and built her a piano-shaped swimming pool. Huey Lewis talks about trying to get used to the revolving circular stage and eventually loving it. Engelbert Humperdinck talks of playing the revolving stage and hating it. Wynonna Judd speaks about the intimacy of the place that allowed her to connect with the audience.

Audience members fondly recall how they could get up close to the stars who would sign autographs before the show and later run up and down the long aisles to make their entrances and exits. Betsy Palmer recalls running up those aisles in hoop skirts on a steamy night during a performance of The King and I and wondering in frustration, “What am I doing here?”

In one of the film’s funniest moments, Howie Mandel is seen on stage realizing that he’s suddenly co-starring with a large moth that has landed on his pants leg. Amusingly, local comedian Charlie Hall recalls getting a phone call at 6 o’clock one evening during his birthday party from a frantic Larry Bonoff, who pleaded with him to come be the last-minute replacement for Jerry Seinfeld’s opening act who didn’t show. Bonoff promised to buy Hall and his friends dinner afterward. The kicker to this story turns out to be even more amusing.

There’s the flap over Willie Nelson’s appearance when he was picketed by local police protesting his support for a cop killer and the flap Patti LaBelle caused when she felt she was shortchanged by the theater staff, leaving the stage in a huff.

THE TENT is brought to life in interviews with many of the people who worked there, many of the performers who played there, and many of the Rhode Islanders who were in the audience — including Buddy Cianci; Gov. and Mrs. Donald Carcieri, who talk about their first dates at The Tent, and Arlene Violet, who remembers when she was a nun digging in her habit for coins to buy a ticket for another sister when owner Burton “Buster” Bonoff came by and gave her freebies.

The documentary is a charmer that brims with nostalgia and fond memories. When it’s over, one will only probably wish there were more.

THE TENT: Life in the Round will be shown at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Providence Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $10. It will be shown Sunday at the Stadium Theatre in Woonsocket where tickets are $12.50. It will open Aug. 28 for a limited run at the Showcase Warwick Cinemas, just down the road from where The Tent once stood.

*****THE TENT: Life in the Round
Featuring: Larry Bonoff, Betsy Menders, Bobby Vinton, Carrot Top, Engelbert Humperdinck, Howie Mandel, Huey Lewis, Louis Anderson, Mel Tillis, Vince Gill, Wynonna Judd.
Rated: Not rated.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Tent is Getting Great Press!


Larry Bonoff, whose family operated the Warwick Musical Theatre for more than four decades.

Filmmakers, Celebrities and Years of Memorabilia Bring Back ‘The Tent’

01:00 AM EDT on Sunday, August 16, 2009
By Michael Janusonis
Journal Arts Writer

Barbara Bonoff never threw anything away.

And not just stuff from the 45 seasons that she and her husband ran the Warwick Musical Theatre. She saved mementos and historical records and playbills and costumes from a family show business line going back to 1919, when her mother was the lead dancer in a vaudeville act’s chorus line that toured “the entire country, as far west as Pennsylvania.”

Larry Bonoff, the 60-year-old son of Barbara and Burton “Buster” Bonoff and a leading concert promoter in his own right, is sitting in the star dressing room backstage at the Providence Performing Arts Center, recalling fondly that “Mother was a pack rat. Anytime anybody died in our family she would take everything that no one else wanted and put it in her cellar. She had a cedar closet built to store the most valuable stuff. A lot of it she kept at her home in Arizona where the dry heat preserved it.”

When his mother died in 2003, Bonoff became heir to more than 10,000 items relating to four generations of showbiz. A good portion of it came from what most Rhode Islanders called “The Tent,” even after his father put up a permanent theater building in 1967 to replace the green-and-yellow-striped circus tent where the likes of Danny Kaye, Jane Russell, John Raitt and Ginger Rogers had performed on a revolving circular stage in a season that ran from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Bonoff says his sister, Betsy Menders, “wanted nothing of the archives. But I wanted it all.”

The treasure trove included tour jackets, ticket stubs, family photos of the stars with the Bonoff family, theater programs from Warwick and from the shows Buster promoted in Phoenix from 1964 to 1988. There are the original manuscripts from the Broadway shows that once played there, including written instructions by Johnny DeSantis, who later became the vice president of production at Walt Disney Studios, on how to light the shows and run them in the round. There are notes from Jimmy Hammerstein, son of fabled Broadway composer Oscar Hammerstein II, who once was the theater’s musical director.

Happily, all that material is not sitting in some basement getting moldy. Bonoff has donated the historical collection to the University of Rhode Island, where he is in the midst of cataloguing it for an online site that he expects won’t be completed for another two years.

But Saturday night the public will get a peek at some of the Warwick Musical Theatre portion of the collection when it takes the starring role in THE TENT: Life in the Round, a feature-length documentary that will have its world premiere at the Providence Performing Arts Center. (It will be followed by a screening the next night at Woonsocket’s Stadium Theatre and then a one-week run at the Showcase Warwick Cinemas, just up the road from where the WMT once stood, beginning Aug. 28.)

Included will be footage from local TV stations going back to the early days, footage from the Rhode Island Historical Society, archival photos from nearly a half-century of summers with the stars under The Tent.

Some of the stars who once performed there were eager to give interviews for the film, says Bonoff, including Mel Tillis, Engelbert Humperdinck, Wynonna Judd, Bobby Vinton, Howie Mandel and Vince Gill, who was The Tent’s last musical act on the Saturday before Labor Day 1999.

“Vince Gill was thrilled to do it,” says Bonoff, “and Wynonna gave me a personal phone call and said, ‘Anything I can do.’ A lot of the stars said they wanted to be in the film because ‘You gave us our breaks, our inspiration.’ This is history told by the people who were there, as they saw it then, as they see it now.”

The idea was hatched, says Bonoff, when Thomas Zorabedian, professor of film studies at URI, was sifting through Bonoff’s donated collection and said, “Let’s do a film.” Zorabedian was no stranger to the Warwick Musical Theatre, having appeared on stage at the age of 5 in a production of The King and I. Bonoff had said the idea of doing a film had been kicked around earlier — a broader idea that looked at summer theaters in general and their imprint on the American theatrical landscape — though nothing had come of it.

The ball started rolling again when Brian Jones, a lawyer in Washington, D.C., who once had been a speechwriter for President George W. Bush, wrote a script outline for a documentary about summer theaters in the round. Jones, who grew up in East Greenwich, had started as an usher at The Tent at age 14 and worked his way up to be Larry Bonoff’s assistant “to the end.” So his idea for a film struck a chord with Bonoff.

Jones is sitting in the editing room/office of documentary filmmaker Jim Karpeichik’s house in suburban Cranston where the two are putting the final touches on THE TENT. Karpeichik is at a computer monitor, editing down what had turned out to be 42 hours of footage and more than 2,500 archival photos. Channel 10 anchor Patrice Wood is expected within the hour to record the film’s narration.

Karpeichik was Channel 10’s chief cameraman when he left in 1999, the same year the Warwick Musical Theatre closed and was torn down to make way for a Lowe’s home improvement store. Since then he has made several award-winning documentaries, including one about Rhode Island’s lighthouses and one that followed some of the state’s World War II veterans back to Normandy where they had landed on D-Day. Some of his 14 Emmys sit on a shelf.

Occasionally Karpeichik pulls up a piece of footage on the monitor — Larry Bonoff at age 10 in the mid-1950s lifting chairs off a pickup truck for theater seating; Channel 10 reporter Jay Kroll in the late 1950s interviewing entertainer Victor Borge at the swimming pool of the Yankee Motor Inn on Post Road where Bonoff remembers spending summers when the theater rented half the place for actors and crew members; color footage of Buster and Barbara Bonoff on their wedding day.

There’s even footage of The Tent being raised, film that not even Larry Bonoff remembers seeing — “stuff that has been buried for 50 years,” says Jones, who had written a book about the theater — Under the Green and Yellow Tent.

Jones, who wrote the film’s script and is its director and co-producer with Bonoff, had been working long-distance with film editor Karpeichik, sending clips back and forth via e-mail. But for this final push, Jones has come up from Washington for firsthand guidance. Bonoff, working on putting together the details of the film’s premiere, has yet to see a completed cut.

Back at PPAC, Bonoff has wonderful memories of The Tent, some of which may make it onto the screen. There are stories about how his father sometimes waited for the day’s box office receipts so he would have enough money when he drove to the Providence train depot to pay the freight for the costumes that had arrived for that night’s show. About how singer Gisele MacKenzie once arrived for a show in a helicopter that landed in the theater’s parking lot. About how the theater used to rent an entire hotel in Narragansett for the summer for the actors, who would rehearse in the basement.

Story follows story: how his father bought the AT&T pavilion from the New York World’s Fair, turning it into the permanent structure that replaced the tent. How in the early years the theater’s permanent company of supporting players would do one Broadway show a night on stage for a week while rehearsing another one by day. How the headline star would play in a show in Warwick for a week with one cast, then go down to the Oakdale Musical Theatre in Wallingford, Conn., to do the same show, but with the Oakdale’s permanent company — a cast he or she had never seen before. (Not such a good idea, says Bonoff.)

Bonoff has memorialized those years in a drawing of his father, beaming over The Tent like the Wizard of Oz, which he had tattooed on his thigh a week after his father died in 2000. “At the age of 30 he started the theater. Age 75 he closed it and he died. Was that the American Dream or what?” asks Bonoff. And now with THE TENT: Life in the Round, he has memorialized those years for all to see.

THE TENT: Life in the Round will have its world premiere at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Providence Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $10 and are on sale at the PPAC box office, by phone at (401) 421-ARTS and online at ppacri/org. A limited number of VIP tickets ($35) include a post-show party and donation that will be split between a breast cancer charity and the URI-Bonoff Theatre Fund. The film will be shown at 7 p.m. Aug. 23 at Woonsocket’s Stadium Theatre. Tickets are $12.50 at the box office, by phone at (401) 762-4545 or online at VIP tickets for $30, including dinner at Chan’s and a charity donation, are also available. The film begins a limited run Aug. 28 at the Showcase Warwick Cinemas.

Friday, August 14, 2009

We Have a Film in the Can!

What began with an email nearly two years has ended with a documentary! I am so pleased to announce that our film is finished and is ready for primetime! And that's a good thing too considering the premiere is 8 days away. But we have been killing ourselves fine tuning it, adding little pieces here and there, and doing our best to make it great as it can be. It has been an amazing ride so far and I want to thank everyone who has sent along expressions of support, they are all appreciated. We are doing some previews next week for press and then the big night on Saturday. Hope to see you all there!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Getting Close!

Hello all! Been a crazy few weeks. After all of the work, we pared down 43 hours of footage to 3 hours of a rough cut. And then for 4 straight 12+ hour days, Emmy-award-winning editor Jim Karpeichik and I wittled that down into roughly 90 minutes of watchable film. What a journey this has been. I am now taking a badly needed break for a few days before we put the final touches on the movie. But what we have right now has been testing positively and everyone seems to like it. So I hope you do too. Tickets are on sale for the premiere at PPAC on August 22. Hope you can join us, and will come to the after-show party as well. All in all, this incredible project is almost ready for primetime and we all hope you will be there with us when we unveil it to the world. Thanks again for your interest!