Saturday, December 27, 2008
New York times Boulton Center NY
Maxine Hicks for The New York Times
ARRIVALS The Boulton Center filled up before a concert by Paula Cole on Dec. 20.
THE weather was certifiably frightful, with storm-conscious cancellations the order of the day and night every place on Long Island, it seemed, but one. At the $2.5 million Y.M.C.A. Boulton Center for the Performing Arts on Dec. 19, the marquee blazed like a weather-beating beacon: SOLD OUT TODD RUNDGREN. Looking for Manhattan-caliber entertainment in a rehabilitated pornographic-movie theater on a revitalized Main Street in the midst of an authentic South Shore snowstorm? Search no farther.
The anxious ticket-holders (the space seats 261) who phoned the box office wondering if their tickets would be passports to a performance, a refund, or a, ah, rain check — among the callers was none other than Frank Boulton, the local entrepreneur/benefactor who snagged naming rights to the theater building after rescuing it from foreclosure and gifting it to the Y.M.C.A. in 1997 — were advised to schlep toward Bay Shore on schedule.
“This theater has always reminded me of ‘The Little Engine That Could,’ and tonight is living proof,” said the convivial Mr. Boulton, segueing straight into mingling mode after his slightly bedraggled arrival (parking was an adventure). He remembers watching classics like “Old Yeller” and “A Hard Day’s Night” here during his childhood, when the circa 1929 building was in its G-rated heyday as the Regent Movie Theater. Then came Triple X-rated ignominy followed by a failed experiment as a nightclub, the Hollyrock. Then came dereliction. “The place was boarded up, the doors were welded shut; it was painful to see,” Mr. Boulton said. After he made it a less painful sight, and site, by buying it, the Y.M.C.A. undertook its restoration.
His other high-visibility, and in some circles, debatable, contribution to the Island’s parched entertainment landscape was bringing a minor league baseball team, the Ducks, to Central Islip. That took 10 years. So did germinating his vision for a multitasking theater (Mr. Rundgren’s roadies loaded in just after a free daytime performance for schoolchildren by the Mermaid Theater of Nova Scotia loaded out). “My projects are always ambitious, and they always seem to take 10 years,” he noted.
The Boulton Center now has an annual operating budget of slightly more than $1 million, around half of it supplied by ticket sales. Thanks to the largess of the Great South Bay Y.M.C.A., whose former chairman, Susan Barbash, patronized the Regent as a child — she can recall Bette Davis attending a screening of “Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte” — the theater is creeping toward self-sustainability.
“I think this show sold out in 15 minutes,” Mr. Boulton bragged, with a sort of paternal pride, after taking a non-V.I.P. spot at the end of the line at the concession stand. “Notice I didn’t cut the line,” he said.
That would be bad behavior. As would wimping out and skipping an important weekend at the theater — he and his wife, Karen, promised to be back in their fifth-row seats the next night for the Paula Cole show (co-sponsored by those nice corporate neighbors at National Grid). So Friday the 19th set the can-do tone.
Cancel a long-anticipated, big-fish-in-a-small-pond concert at a not-for-profit theater that prides itself on delivering diverse (only heavy metal acts are a no-no), accessible top-shelf entertainment to a hitherto culturally deprived clientele? With the concert sold out at $55 a seat ($50 for members), it was a no-brainer by management to embody an old show-biz cliché: the show must go on. Fortunately, the star attraction, Mr. Rundgren, a prolific rock/pop troubadour of many incarnations in the course of a four-decade career ignited by the hit ballad “Hello, It’s Me,” slogged to Bay Shore on time.
“He’s a road warrior,” exhaled a relieved Michele Rizzo, the director of talent buying, the center’s odd official title for its inspired booking agent/performer pacifier. Inveigling performers to traipse to a little-known venue in Bay Shore — the griping usually stops when they discover its intimate dimensions and non-bush-league acoustics — is just the beginning of her duties.
Mr. Rundgren, for example, specified Propel Fit Water as his bio-fuel of choice, so Propel Fit Water he got. Quantitatively less trouble than the artist who insisted on organic unsliced oat bread (tough to locate) and screamed at Ms. Rizzo for providing sliced.
Whatever it takes. Happy performers are repeat performers, but only if the resilient Ms. Rizzo elects to rebook them. “I’d probably leave here crying every day if I got upset every time a performer yelled at me over some tiny detail,” she said. Perhaps Bryan Adams should not have insulted the plastic Bon Jovi doll in her office: at a Bon Jovi concert she attended at age 13, she glimpsed her future, and it was the music business. Ms. Rizzo also teaches a course at her alma mater, Five Towns College in Dix Hills.
Speaking of business: The popcorn machine was churning out its fragrant product, throngs of middle-agers (assuming full age is 100ish) were availing themselves of the free coat check (some suburban perks are nothing to sneeze at), and up on the revamped stage Mr. Rundgren, the only baby boomer in the room with a dramatic, skunk-inspired two-tone coif, sidled up to the microphone and bade his hardy audience some special, semi-sarcastic words of welcome.
“Only the brave,” he intoned. “The few. The strong. My fans. We know what a gargantuan, nay, Herculean, task it was for you to get here. We don’t live around the corner, either.”