September 21, 2012
A new arts season is upon us, as it is every fall, but this year is different on the South Shore, with a stellar new addition to its arts community. Built in 1927, the Norwood Theatre is celebrating its 85th birthday with a comprehensive renovation, after having gone dark four years ago. And this Saturday, it will host its first big show when the Ultrasonic Rock Orchestra comes to town.
Back in 2008, longtime local Susan Lewis had recently moved back to the area from South Carolina and settled in Dover, when she saw that the theater was up for sale. For decades it had been used for theater events and movies, but had barely been upgraded. For $925,000, the theater was hers, and then she set about the long process of trying to return the stage to its former physical glory.
For two-and-a-half years, the theater presented big and small projects. On the large side, the theater had been split in two, with the mezzanine separated from the rest of the theater by partitions. She removed them and opened up the theater to its former grandeur. On the detailed side, she carefully chose the marble wainscoting in the lobby to match as closely as possible what had been there before. And biggest of all, she did this all on her own dime.
“I did no fundraising,” says Lewis. “At the time, the economy was in bad shape, and there were so many nonprofits out there finding it so hard to get funding, so I felt that this was my contribution to the community for the arts and the local community.”
The opening gala was on August 31, a full 85 years to the day from when the Norwood Theatre first opened. A black-tie affair, hundreds of people attended, including the surviving family of the original architect, William G. Upham. Many people shared how the old theater had been part of their past growing up around Norwood, and Lewis has now set up a web page on the theater’s website for people to post their reminiscences, all part of connecting her project to the people she hopes will embrace it.
As for what the theater will host, this fall presents a limited slate of productions, starting with the Ultrasonic Rock Orchestra, a totally glammed-out tribute band blasting out huge renditions of ’60s and ’70s rock bands like Led Zeppelin and Queen. Future shows will include comedy, children’s events, a cappella groups, plus films for the whole family. (The theater has already screened classics such as Mary Poppins in 35mm and The Red Balloon.) Come January, Lewis says, the theater should be fully finalized, and she hopes to offer a full season of events.
“This is my passion, so I am working here 24/7,” Lewis says. “Right now, we’re trying to book as much as we can to keep the building open to people and to bring a variety of entertainment to the community.”
Whether many of these events are groundbreaking or not is inconsequential. The Norwood Theatre is giving access to the arts is an area that has often lacked venues, and thanks to Lewis’s largesse, the South Shore has one of its brightest marquees lit up again.
By Matthew Reed Baker for Bostonmagazine.com.