SEE IT AT THE MOVIES
by Joyce & Don Fowler
Aug 28, 2009
THE TENT: LIFE IN THE ROUND
(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 http://www.bonoff.net/, 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.