The Newton Theatre returns to its original glory

| 15 Feb 2012 | 08:44

Newton — In the 87 years since its birth, the Newton Theatre has undergone many transformations. In the beginning it was a lone stage with one large screen and an orchestra pit. In 1975, the theater was divided in half and turned into two separate theaters with smaller screens. In September 2010, the theater closed indefinitely with no owner in sight. Locals were left to wonder what its fate would be. Enter stage left, Sparta resident Jonathan “JP” Peirce. Peirce, who has worked as the production director at the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown, said he was driving past the theater and spotted its for sale sign. He dialed up business partner, Paul Larena, of East Hanover. “Want to buy a theater?” he asked Larena - and so it began. The duo own 5 Point Event Production Services, LLC, a production company based out of Sussex County. Peirce was originally a musician before breaking into the production end of the stage. Refurbishing the old theater has been a labor of love, and exciting for Peirce, Larena, and their team, as they restore the Newton Theatre to its previous magnificence. “It’s really a pretty theater,” said Peirce. The restoration has entailed tearing down the wall separating the theater into two, taking up the carpet, removing four layers of paint from the floor, unearthing the orchestra pit, rebuilding the original side walls surrounding the stage (taken down when the theater was divided) and building a bathroom and dressing room in the wings for the performers. The ceiling has also been redone. Peirce and Larena worked with experts to choose colors from the 1920’s to return the theater to its original look from the time it was built. “This was the biggest theater from New York to Pennsylvania,” Peirce said. The original 1,000 seats were crammed into the theater where spectators watched vaudeville acts and cows brought on stage for milking contests. The new theater will have approximately 670 seats. “We want to keep it as original as possible, but we’d like people to be comfortable,” said Peirce. The theater’s grand opening weekend kicks off on Friday, September 9, with a sold out performance by singer, songwriter and record producer Todd Rundgren. Other upcoming performers include blues-rock performer Scott Henderson on September 15, the Celtic band Solas on September 23, Big Apple Comedy Club 1 featuring New York Comedians on September 24, the Grammy nominated group The Duhks on October 14, Big Apple Comedy Club 2 on November 26 and singer Dar Williams on December 1. Peirce said he and Larena continue to book acts and have other plans for the stage, such as small orchestra performances, one act plays, screenings of classic films, and children’s shows. Sam and Jennifer Kitchin, professionals in the acting and casting industries and owners of Sparta’s Alpine Arts, will teach classes on the Newton Theatre stage, Peirce said. Peirce said he has also met with nearby restaurant owners about promotional offers between the theater and eateries. He feels that the theater and surrounding businesses can be mutually benficial to each other. He described Mayor Kristi Becker, and Newton’s Town Manager, Thomas Russo, as “great people.” “They have been really helpful, the town has been behind [the opening of the theater],” Peirce said. “We’re doing something we love, I can see nothing but positive coming out of it,” Peirce said. An open house is currently in the works prior to the grand opening weekend, said Peirce, when the public will be invited to explore the newly and completely renovated theater. The Newton Theatre is located at 234 Spring Street in Newton. Tickets are still available for the Sept. 10 performance by The Motels, a new wave group known for the hits “Suddenly Last Summer” and “Only the Lonely.” Tickets can be purchased at the theater box office, by phone at 973-383-3700, or online at