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History

 

State theatre circa 1931The historic State Theatre is a magnificently renovated 1921 vaudeville and silent film palace that is today a premier nonprofit venue for the performing arts and entertainment. Credited as a major factor in New Brunswick’s return to economic vitality, the State Theatre offers something for everyone including: international orchestras, Broadway musicals, world-class dance, opera, stand-up comedy, Pop, Jazz, children's theater, world music, educational programs, and more—annually attracting some 200,000 patrons.

The roster of performers who have graced the State Theatre’s stage reads like a “Who’s Who” in the entertainment industry: Aretha Franklin, the New York Philharmonic, Yo-Yo Ma, Bruce Springsteen, the Bolshoi Ballet, Jay Leno, Dave Brubeck, Johnny Mathis, Tom Brokaw, the Martha Graham Dance Company, and many others.

State theatre-daily home news ad-1921Opening on December 26, 1921 and designed by noted theater architect Thomas W. Lamb to offer both movies and live entertainment, "Reade's State Theatre" was one of the biggest, most lavish and modern theaters in the region.

The opening matinee audience, who willingly paid the 20-, 30-, and 50-cent admission, was treated to a live orchestra concert and a tenor rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner." The first feature presentation was the silent film White Oak, a western melodrama starring stone-faced cowboy hero William S. Hart. Also on the bill were five vaudeville acts, a newsreel, and a nature film. The State was the "class act in town," with its opulent decor, splendid acoustics, and delightful mix of cinematic and live attractions.

A few years into its operation, the theater's management was transferred to the B.F. Keith theater chain. Benjamin Franklin Keith and his partner, Edward Franklin Albee, operated the largest string of vaudeville theaters and the largest booking agency for vaudeville acts in the east. Eventually, the business merged with the largest western booking agency, Orpheum, to form Keith-Albee-Orpheum (KAO). The Radio Corporation of America (RCA), which entered the motion picture business after the advent of sound, acquired KAO in 1928. RCA renamed its new subsidiary Radio-Keith-Orpheum, RKO.

State theatre-1989The State Theatre continued to thrive well into the 60s; until eventually audiences started flocking to new multiplex cinemas. In the face of this decline, RKO sold the building to a concern that converted the once-proud State Theatre into a road house that occasionally showed adult movies. It persisted in this state until 1979, when it was purchased by the New Brunswick Development Corporation (DevCo) as part of New Brunswick's revitalization project. By this time, the State Theatre had suffered a sorry decline, both in appearance and reputation.

In 1986, the New Brunswick Cultural Center acquired the State Theatre from DevCo, and by fall 1987 work was underway to reclaim the building from the ravages of time. Miraculously transformed back into a state-of-the-art showplace for live performances, the State Theatre reopened on April 24, 1988 and set the press and public raving about the hall's visual and acoustical splendors.

State theatre-2004In December of 2003, the theater began an extensive, $3 million restoration/renovation to return the theater as closely as possible to its original appearance while updating its sound and lighting systems to state-of-the-art. Experts from the architectural firm of Ford, Farewell, Mills, and Gatch oversaw the cleaning and repair of the handsome terra cotta exterior. On the inside, artists from Conrad Schmitt of Milwaukee, a century-old firm specializing in historic restorations, researched and physically examined several areas of the theater’s interior to determine the original paint colors, decorative trim style, and other signature details of the Thomas W. Lamb theater. The theater underwent ornamental plaster repair, decorative painting, replacement of house and lobby lighting, and installation of high tech sound and lighting systems.

The newly refurbished State Theatre was unveiled in October 2004. Funding for the 2003-04 restoration was secured by the Middlesex County and the Board of Chosen Freeholders through Middlesex County’s Open Space Recreation and Farmland and Historic Preservation Trust Fund. The project was directed by the New Brunswick Cultural Center with construction and logistical support provided by the New Brunswick Development Corporation.

Today, the State Theatre continues to flourish as a premier venue for the arts in New Jersey with annual festivals and community programs such as Hub City Carnivale, the New Jersey Blues and Jazz Festival, Artist-in-Residence, Milk & Cookies, on top of a full season line-up of Broadway, dance, orchestra, opera, family events, comedy, films and captured live HD ballet and opera performances (on a 46' screen!), and more.

State theatre-today
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