When promoter Pete Lally spoke with audience members who attended a show at the Larcom Theatre last spring, he got two reactions.
"Either they said, 'I haven't been here since I was kid' or 'I had no idea this was here,'" Lally said.
Entering its second century, the Larcom, built in 1912, is about to leap back into the limelight. The rarely used theater on a side street off Beverly's downtown has been booked for a series of off-Broadway shows and concerts from October to May.
Advocates are hoping the shows will not only revive the former vaudeville theater but also add vibrancy to the downtown and boost the city's economy.
According to Lally, more than 2,000 people attended the "Late Night Catechism" shows over 16 nights at the Larcom last April and May that served as a kind of trial run for the upcoming series of shows.
"We talked to a lot of people who came last year, and they had never been in downtown Beverly," said Beverly Main Streets executive director Gin Wallace. "It's another reason to bring new people downtown."
The way for the Larcom's revival was actually paved by the end of the Le Grand David magic shows that had been staged there and at the Cabot Cinema Theatre. The shows, which ran for 35 years at the Cabot Cinema and 25 years at the Larcom, closed earlier this year after the death of their founder, Cesareo Pelaez.
Members of the magic company, who own both theaters, are trying to sell the Cabot Cinema while turning the Larcom, with its horseshoe-shaped balcony and antique, pressed-tin interior, into a venue for shows and other events.
"It was the intention of Cesareo to use these theaters as stages for the Le Grand Magic Co.," said David Bull, who played Le Grand David and is president of the theaters' ownership group. "That's why we bought them. I had to admit there were moments when I went into the Larcom and the Cabot and said, 'Gee, wouldn't it be nice to see someone else perform?'"
Lally, through his company Spectacle Management, has booked six off-Broadway shows that will have multiple-day runs at the Larcom in October, November, December, February, March and May, for a total of 54 shows.
The Larcom will also host three one-night concerts in October, November and December, through promoters Peter and Vickie Van Ness of Gimme Live.
Lally, who has booked shows at the Lowell Auditorium and the Hanover Theatre in Worcester, said he had never heard of the Larcom Theatre until he was introduced to Bull two years ago.
"Whenever I walked in the first time and David turned on all the lights, I was like, 'You gotta be kidding me,'" Lally said. "They did a nice job renovating it in the 1980s and it was relatively lightly used, so it's in such good shape. So many of these theaters are gone. It's a real treasure. There's so much potential there."
Van Ness, who lives in Gloucester, said there is no other venue around like the Larcom, which has 450 seats and is "acoustically perfect."
"The last row in the balcony is a better seat than pretty much any other seat in any venue around here," he said. "It's just a spectacular space."
The promoters say the Larcom will provide people a less expensive, more convenient alternative to a night out in Boston. Tickets are $39 for the off-Broadway shows, and $19 to $39 for the concerts. Parking is available in nearby municipal lots, which are free after 5 p.m.
Wallace, of Main Streets, said her group has begun working with restaurants to see if they would like to partner with the Larcom to attract theater-goers to their businesses. The Larcom has applied for one of the new liquor licenses that Mayor Bill Scanlon is seeking for the city through the state Legislature. Bull said the owners might also put in air-conditioning.
The theater, which has a separate function room, is also being rented out for weddings and other private events.
Along with the well-established North Shore Music Theatre, Bull said he's hoping the revitalization of the Larcom will turn Beverly into a center for live theater and music.
"I think there's room enough for everybody," he said. "As long as you're putting on quality entertainment, I think people will turn out."
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or email@example.com.
Shows at Larcom Theatre
* Allen Estes Band, Oct. 5
* "A Couple of Blaguards," Oct. 18-27
* The Slide Brothers, Nov. 2
* "My Mother's Italian, My Father's Jewish, and I'm in Therapy," Nov. 15-24
* "A Celtic Christmas," Dec. 7-8
* Henri Smith New Orleans Christmas, Dec. 14
* "Defending the Caveman," Feb. 14-23
* "Good Lessons, Bad Women," March 21-30
* "100 Years of Broadway," May 6-11
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