A full house of 300 people attended a vaudeville show held last September in the Carol Theater of Chestertown in conjunction with the first-ever Rum-Runners’ Weekend. Partially due to the success of this event, an initiative to resuscitate the historic theater has been launched, with a vision of offering concerts, shows, musicals and other performing arts onstage after it is refurbished. Photo by Brandon Himoff
An effort is now underway to revive the Carol Theater, which for decades in the mid-1900s was the primary entertainment venue for the rural town.
The Tri-Lakes Business Alliance, a group of local citizens who seek to jumpstart local commerce and culture, is leading the initiative. Alliance member Al Tolomeo, a jazz drummer and retired restaurant owner, has been spearheading the concept.
Tolomeo said this week he first thought of reviving the Carol Theater last September, when he saw the Carol Theater packed with citizens turning out for a vaudeville show held in conjunction with Rumrunners’ Weekend, which was planned and sponsored by the Alliance.
“Bringing shows and concerts back to the Carol Theater could revitalize the whole town,” Tolomeo said March 31. “The theater might need some upgrading, but it’s a classic venue, and it would be quite a stimulus for the area.
Tolomeo said that when the Alliance has held events in town, the businesses have prospered and hundreds have enjoyed the ambiance. Holding performances at the theater would accomplish both, he said.
Tolomeo has discussed the idea with his friends including Jonathan Newell who has established the Hudson River Music Hall in Hudson Falls and is seeking to resurrect the Strand Theater there. Newell has been offering advice on the concept of revitalizing the Carol Theater which decades ago was a busy movie theater that also hosted stage shows.
He said a non-profit organization could be formed to obtain grant money to revitalize thetheater, as well as book shows and operate the hall, as Newell has accomplished in Hudson Falls.
“Jonathan Newell has expertise and contacts — he knows the right path, and he’s been helpful,” Tolomeo said.
In the meantime, the Alliance could book plays, concerts, musicals and various performances at the theater to test the waters, Tolomeo said.
“We could see what the local people and summer residents are interested in,” he said, adding that a good number of regional musicians who perform at the Hudson River Music Hall were likely to perform at the Carol Theater too. Tolomeo predicted that northern Warren County audiences would appreciate a wide variety of musical idioms, whether it’s jazz, blues, rock ‘n roll, classical, country-western, homegrown folk, Americana roots or bluegrass.
The Alliance would be likely enlist the town government’s support in making the venue’s renewal venue a reality, Tolomeo added.
Town of Chester Supervisor Fred Monroe said he was enthusiastic about the initiative to revive the theater.
“Live performances would be great for downtown Chestertown,” he said.
Alfred Hyslop — an award-winning television producer, actor and director who has a home in Chester — said the revitalization of the Carol Theater would be a welcome accomplishment. A former producer of the television series Sesame Street, Hyslop has written, directed and produced shows and musicals in the municipal auditorium.
“Restoring the Carol Theater would be helpful for the community,” he said, adding that he would be offering to volunteer in the venue’s revitalization. “People in the Chester area like to go out and enjoy decent entertainment. I would certainly be glad to see it operating.”
In recent years, people have talked about showing films in the theater, but the movie distributors are now only offering new movies in digital format, which requires a conversion of equipment that costs $70,000 or more.
Between 2009 and 2013, Nanci Hayes operated the theater, offering classic non-digital films and several concerts including the Stephen L. Smith Band — who’s made a splash in Nashville — and the first-ever concert by Harold Ford, a Johnny Cash tribute artist that’s met with regional success.
Mary Jane Dower, for years the leader of Chestertown’s downtown revitalization committee, said that a wide variety of performing arts, and not just movies, would be what attracts an audience that would sustain the theater.
“Bringing the Carol Theater back to life would be wonderful — The historic theater is absolutely beautiful, and the architecture is intact, but it needs to be fixed up,” she said. “It could be quite the community showplace.”