Dreamin#039; at the Ritz

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 14, 2004

A handsome man with a charming Scottish accent (who sipped martinis shaken, not stirred, and had a boatload of fabulous gadgets) was larger than life and right in front of me.

&uot;Thunderball&uot;, one of the early James Bond movies, was the very first movie I ever saw at a theater. It was Greenville’s Ritz Theatre, to be exact.

A re-issue of &uot;Gone With the Wind&uot; had me sobbing when Bonnie Blue fell off her horse, and altogether marveling at the beauty of Vivien Leigh in glorious Technicolor.

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I confess I stamped my foot in a fit of Scarlett-like pique when I discovered we wouldn’t be able to see Disney’s &uot;The Jungle Book&uot;. (Years later, I saw it on reissue as an adult and practically laughed my head off.)

As I recall, my last movie at the Ritz was Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece of water-bound suspense, &uot;Jaws&uot; (Mama and I both cheered when the shark finally bought it).

The Ritz fell on hard times not long after that, closing its doors permanently.

Many small-town movie theaters were on the skids by then, unable to compete with the multiplexes in bigger cities.

Greenville lost more than a downtown business when the Ritz closed; it lost a wonderful place to dream.

When I returned to Greenville to do my student teaching in 1982, I remember how enthusiastic my supervising teacher, Priscilla Davis, was concerning a new project underway in the city.

It seems the Ritz was going to be restored, returned to its original beauty. Only this time around it would showcase live performers – actors, dancers, musicians. It sounded like a wonderful idea – but could it be done?

It could.

If you have never been to a GAAC production at the Ritz, my friend, you are missing out on something special. First of all, the glorious old movie palace is worth a visit in and of itself.

I remember those unattractive burlap-covered walls of yore, along with other &uot;improvements&uot; that disguised the vibrant beauty of the place. I (and I’m sure, many others) never realized what a lovely little gem the hometown theater had once been – until the arts council began the arduous task of bringing it back to life. Bravo, ladies and gents, on a job well done.

Then, there are the performances themselves: quality productions with talented casts, great costumes, toe-tapping music (even live orchestras for some shows!) and plenty of bang for the buck.

Who knows, some of the folks you see on stage just might be future Broadway stars – and you can say you &uot;saw them when&uot;.

I enjoyed the Ritz as a movie theater; I love it as a resurrected palace of dreams that brings the wonder of live theater to a little town like ours.

If Sean Connery would only show up, I’d be in absolute heaven.

Angie Long is a Lifestyles writer and columnist for The Greenville Advocate. She may be contacted at home by phone at 382-5145.