Refurbished theater, 63, celebrated

Refurbished theater, 63, celebrated

Refurbished theater, 63, celebrated  


MONTAGUE  – Some 80 friends and supporters turned out last night to kick off the gala opening weekend of the newly renovated Shea Theater, which supporters hope will provide an endless stream of entertainment for Franklin County and beyond. 

The $1 million project, which began five years ago, officially opened last night with a formal gathering as Project Manager Andrew Lichtenberg expressed optimism that there would be enough support to maintain operations. 

“I feel exhilarated,” he said. “I’m very proud of all the people that have worked so hard. We do have a surge of support behind us.” 

Sponsorships at $200 are still available, with the name of the donor’s choice to be engraved on a commemorative plate which will be permanently attached to one of the theater’s 320 seats. A membership drive is also slated to begin this weekend, where Shea organizers are asking for annual pledges of $25, $50, or $100, with special privileges offered in return. 

Boston architect Robert Olson inspected the building, on Avenue A in the Turners Falls section of Montague, with a punchlist Thursday. Satisfied it is up to code~ he will issue a certificate of substantial completion to Montague Building Inspector David Jensen in the near future. 

“It’s an excellent project,” Olson said. “We wanted to provide a useful place for the community. It had a very wide range of needs for this building.” 

The Wright Brothers, a new age vaudeville comedy act, and the Paradise City Jazz Band were scheduled to perform last night. 

Country folk singer David Mallett will perform at 8 p.m. tonight. The theater will host a free open house tomorrow from noon to 5 p.m. with a wide variety of regional artists performing throughout the afternoon. 

State Sen. John W. Olver, D-Amherst, was granted the honor of cutting the ribbon on the theater’s stage. He secured a $575,000 state grant for construction costs and it is widely believed the theater would not have reached the stage it has without his support and efforts. 

“This is a dream realized for all of us,” he said. “It is also a keystone of Turners Falls and Montague in the redevelopment and revitalization of this community.” 

The Shea Theater is Franklin County’s only building dedicated solely for performing arts. 

Boston area resident Phillip Shea offered a surprising anecdote about his late father Dennis, who built the original Shea Theater movie house in 1927. Dennis, the audience learned, disliked movies but had a love for live performances. 

“This auditorium isn’t like the ones I remember at the children’s matinee,” he said. “My father would have been delighted to know that more than 60 years after he opened, the Shea Theater is alive.” 

The younger Shea added his father would be “overwhelmed” to know the building still carries his name. 

Montague Selectman Katherine Waitkus, on the other hand, reminisced about growing up in the Millers Falls section of Montague during the Depression Era and how the Shea Theater was “the saving grace” for residents then.