Burton “Buster” Bonoff hams it up with Sammy Davis Jr. in a photo that once hung in Bonoff’s office at "The Tent." (Photo by Soozie Sundlun, EG Photo)
‘THE TENT: Life in the Round’ Offers Celebrity Memories and More
01:00 AM EDT on Friday, July 31, 2009
By Michael Janusonis
Journal Arts Writer
Between 1955 and 1999, the summertime place for stargazing in Rhode Island did not involve looking skyward, but heading over to the Warwick Musical Theatre.
There you could get up close — and sometimes even shake hands — with the likes of Ginger Rogers, Jane Russell, Liberace, Engelbert Humperdinck, Tom Jones, Anne Murray, Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Paul Anka and so many more. When Larry Bonoff, son of theater founder Burton “Buster” Bonoff, went looking for film footage of his family’s showplace, he wound up with 42 hours of material for his documentary film — THE TENT: Life in the Round — which will go on screen Aug. 22 at the Providence Performing Arts Center and Aug. 23 at Woonsocket’s Stadium Theater. Tickets for the PPAC show go on sale Saturday.
There’s footage of some of the stars on stage, footage of the tent that went up every summer on Quaker Lane in Warwick before a permanent structure was built, footage of the Bonoff family working behind the scenes and new interviews with some of the stars who played there — Vince Gill, Howie Mandel, Carrot Top and Engelbert among them. There are also interviews with some of the people who worked at “The Tent” or who covered the shows for the press or who were just regular customers, such as Governor and Mrs. Donald Carcieri.
THE TENT, says Bonoff, will not only be about the history of the theater and his family’s involvement with it over 4 1/2 decades, but also about the effects such venues had on show business. The “tents,” primarily an East Coast phenomenon, gave fading film stars a second chance, up-and-coming musical stars an opportunity to get out among their fans, and TV stars a crack at doing Broadway-style shows on the road during the summer.
All that footage is being edited down to a (more or less) 90-minute running time this week by Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker Jim Karpeichik and writer/director Brian C. Jones. Tickets for the Aug. 22 screening of THE TENT: Life in the Round at the Providence Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m. go on sale Saturday at the theater’s Web site —ppacri/org. On Monday they also will be available at the PPAC box office and by phone at (401) 421-ARTS. Seats are $10 with a limited number of VIP tickets ($35) that include a post-show party and charity donation. Half the money will go to a breast cancer charity and half to the URI-Bonoff Theatre Fund.
Tickets for the 7 p.m. Aug. 23 screening at the Stadium ($12.50; $30 VIP tickets with dinner at Chan’s and a charity donation) go on sale Monday at stadiumtheatre.com, at the box office or by phone at (401) 762-4545.