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Issue Date: September 2012, Posted On: 9/20/2012

The show must go on: Patel revives historic R.I. theater

By Martin Desmarais
Piyush Patel's $10 million revamp of the Park Theatre in Cranston, R.I., kept the historic exterior, but redid all of the interior spaces and features. Photo by PARK THEATRE
Piyush Patel is a true businessman at heart — an executive at a chemical company, an owner of hotels and restaurants and with his hands in various industries such as software, electronics and oil-drilling — but when it came to restoring the historic Park Theatre in Cranston, R.I. he was driven by a passion beyond his entrepreneurial savvy. He said he just felt like a state-of-the-art theatre and performing arts center was something that the community and the Indian-American community in New England, in particular, needed.

"Theater is something I like. I used to own 9-10 movie theaters and when I was running them I was always fond of music and other things and I like to take on challenging projects," said Patel. "My motive was not to immediately make money, in fact it is going to take a long time until we break even, but it is something I wanted to do for the community. This theater was totally lost. It was dead."

Build in 1924, the Park Theatre spent eight decades as a film and vaudeville house before shuttering in 2002. Patel spent approximately $10 million over several years revamping the theater and reopened it in late 2009, but he really has kicked off the theater's slate of events in 2012 and is upping his push to connect with the Indian American community.

"My expectation is that hopefully the New England community will support this theater and I would like to make this theater the place for all the latest Indian events," Patel said.

Patel's efforts and investment have made the Park Theatre a fully-equipped, state of the art, multi-purpose performing arts center which features concerts, comedy, theatrical performances, speakers, opera, dance recitals, children's and family shows, movies, sports, presentations and remote entertainment through the theater's satellite-enabled HD projector. The theater is also used for corporate, civic and local events, such as meetings, conferences, weddings, stage competitions and fund raisers.

Because of its historic value, Patel kept the exterior of the Park Theatre the same as the original design, but the inside features a totally new footprint from the prior layout, with a brand new and larger stage, as well as 1,000 new seats. With a balcony of 250, the theater hall can sit over 1,200. The Park Theatre also includes the Stage Door Restaurant and Lounge, as well as a restaurant and banquet hall that can double as a conference and meeting center. The theater has free parking for 400 cars, along with valet service.

"I think this theater is ideal. It is a state of the art theater," Patel said. "We have the capability to do almost anything, including Broadway plays."

A quick glance at the show list from this year displays a busy calendar with a variety of events from The Israeli Film Festival 2012 to the Ballet Folklórico De Antioquia, Colombia, to opera "The Merry Widow" to blues guitar legend Buddy Guy.

One of the reasons for the Park Theatre's emergence this year is that Patel brought on a new and highly experience program director who is increasing the prominence and variety of acts that the theater is booking. "Business is going good. I have a very good program director now. He happens to be an Indian guy, but he knows all about all kinds of shows," Patel said.

Still, Patel wants to very much connect with the Indian-American community. He would like to turn the restaurant in the Park Theatre into an Indian restaurant, though that might be a ways off, he admits. For the time being, for an Indian-flavored show or movie he has outside catering that provides Indian food.

In May, the Park Theatre welcomed Indian ghazal legend Pankaj Udhas for a sold out concert. Udhas appearance was the only New England stop on his U.S. tour and he thrilled audience with his playback singing and hit songs from his numerous albums, including his break-through hit "Chitthi Aayee Hai" from the 1986 film "Naam."

Now the theater is gearing up for another big Indian-targeted event on Saturday, Sept. 22, the Hindi comedy play, "AAseman Se Gire Khajoor Pe Atke," featuring Bollywood stars Padmini Kolhapure, Shakti Kapoor and Naveen Bawa. The play is described as an "edgy, electrifying story of greed, corruption, ambition, trust, betrayal, and loyalty in a world of love and desperation gone dangerously awry."

Patel, who lives in New Jersey but owns several hotels in Rhode Island in addition to the Park Theatre, says that he can use his connections to the Indian community in New Jersey to attract more and more Indian-themed entertainment to the Park Theatre. "I am definitely going to have good ties with all the promoters to bring a variety of shows," he added.

He believes the R.I. location of the Park Theatre is ideal to reach the pockets of Indian Americans spread throughout the region in hubs such as Boston and New Haven, Conn.

"It is very easy to get to," Patel said. "Once the Indian community gets to know the theater in New England they will love to get there.

"I strongly feel, very strongly, with proper marketing that once the Indian community in the New England area knows the theater, all I have to fill is 1,000 seats. I am sure once the Indian community of New England knows this theater, I am sure that I will be able to fill the theater, with the proper shows ... because we have everything," he added. "I am quite optimistic about this."

So much so, that Patel is already working to expand his theater offerings in the state. He is currently remodeling a smaller, 800-seat theater in Wakefield, R.I.

For more information on the Park Theatre and scheduled events, visit www.parktheatreri.com.

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