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Kings Theatre reopens after $95 million restoration

INTRO: Last week a theater in Flatbush, Brooklyn reopened after having been closed and left to decay for almost forty years. It took a $95 million dollar investment, but now the theater looks exactly as it did when it first opened. All it needs now is a regular audience – of six hundred thousand people. Hanna Klingberg reports. (0:16)

It’s Saturday and I’ve just arrived in Flatbush for a community open house celebrating the grand reopening of Kings theatre.

The line goes around the block. Most people are local, after all the event is for people in the neighborhood to get a look at the renovation. But for others, it’s been quite a schlep. Rosalie Henry and her daughter Sharita live in the Bronx.

HENRY: By train it’s about 2 hours, but it’s worth it to just come out here and sit in it and watch something.

And it took me about 70 minutes to travel from the Upper West Side. This could prove a problem. With 3200 seats, Kings Theater is now the third largest operating theater in New York City, and by far the largest theater in Brooklyn. To fill all the shows, the theater says the goal is to get six hundred thousand people to the 200+ shows. Marketing director Charlie McGrew has a plan.

MCGREW: It’s all about booking the right shows. There’s a lot of great shows in the pipeline and we just plan to continue and drive folks further into Brooklyn than they may have ever been. (0:12)

Driving folks to Brooklyn is the plan. The theater offers 700 free parking spaces, which McGrew says they hope will attract people from the Bronx, Queens and Long Island. And the shows are mostly big-name artists like Gladys Knight, Sarah McLaughlin and Sufjan Stevens.

But at the open house, the star of the show was the theater itself.

USHER: Welcome to Kings Theatre! (0:03)

Ambience: Wow! (0:02)

Natasha Walker had been looking forward to the open house for a long time.

WALKER: We live down the street and we’ve been watching the renovations for the last two years and wondering how close to the original they were going to get it. (0:09)

Oh, it’s close. As we were let into the grand foyer, it became evident just how much 1920s bling you can get for $95 million. Executive Director Matt Wolfe says it’s been two years of extremely detailed restoration.

WOLFE: A lot of this stuff was hand-crafted work, so every piece of this theater was touched by hand. (0:06)

Everywhere you look there’s gold and red velvet and embroidered tapestries and ornate carvings. Kings Theater had been empty since it closed in 1977. There was a gaping hole in the roof and half the mezzanine had collapsed. Brooklyn Borough historian, Ron Schweiger, is impressed with the work.

SCHWEIGER: I was in the theater when it was at its worst. And I can tell you – what they have done, I won’t say next to a miracle, it is a miracle. (0:11)

LOMBARDO: It’s magnificent inside. (0:08)

That’s Mary Lombardo. She has lived in Flatbush all her life and remembers coming to Kings Theatre as a kid to watch movies in the sixties. She’s been hoping the theater would be brought back to life.

REPORTER: Have you bought tickets yet?

LOMBARDO: I was just gonna call my neighbor to see if I should get tickets for Frankie Vallie! Hahaha! (0:07)

If you want to join Mary and her neighbor at the Frankie Vallie show on March 21, there are plenty of seats available. Hanna Klingberg, Columbia Radio News.


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