Monday, January 17, 2011

Audiences pack Redford Theatre

The Redford Theatre took a chance and won, big time.

"This is the largest crowd we've had since the 1980s," said a spokesperson for the theater, prior to Saturday night's presentation of "To Kill a Mockingbird," starring Gregory Peck as the small town Southern lawyer who defends a black man accused of raping a white woman in the 1930s. 

Audiences not only turned out to see a classic black and white movie, based on Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize winning best-selling novel of the same name (Friday and Saturday), but paid a extra to meet Mary Badham, the actress who won an Oscar nomination for her role in the film as Peck's daughter, "Scout."

"The response has been wonderful," said Linda Sites, who had the honor of escorting Badham to the events organized by the Motor City Theatre Organ Society. "She is a lovely lady."

Among the highlights was a meet and greet at the Motor City Java House, a cozy little coffee shop a couple of doors down from the theater owned by Alicia Marion, 40, of Detroit. When Marion purchased the building, it was a blemish in the community. Inspired by her work as a volunteer for many years with the Motor City Blight Busters, she was able to restore it to its original beauty (including a hardwood floor fashioned out of material removed from abandoned homes in the area) making it a hotspot once again. Besides a great place for a hot cup of Joe and a piece of key lime pie, before or after the show, it serves as a pulpit for creative expression. Jazz musicians, poets and artists have all made a point of performing at Marion's Java House. The café is open weekdays from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and on weekends surrounding movies at the Redford Theatre. The café is available for group events such as a meeting of the Red Hat Society, showers and gigs like Saturday night's appearance by Badham.

"I want to thank you all for coming and welcome you to the Motor City Java House, my dream, my vision for this area,"  said Marion.

Then she directed everyone to a magnificent display of desserts. Among the items that had everyone licking their chops and going back for a second helping was the key lime pie and her mom's lemon tarts. Just as happy to see everyone enjoying themselves was Marion's mother, who, along with Marion's sister, son and nephew, supports her new business venture.

"That's my girl," said Marion's mother. "I am so proud of her."

Marion's sweet table was the perfect backdrop for Badham's voice, which echoed the same sweet Southern accent that she first shared with movie audiences as a tomboy of 10. She told the group about her experiences on the "Mockingbird" set and working with Gregory Peck, or "Atticus," as she fondly refers to the late actor. "He'll always be Atticus to me," Badham said. "I was too young to call him Greg and I knew him too well to call him Mr. Peck." 

The event at the Java House was limited to 60 guests, but the thousand or so others who packed the theater were treated to a similar experience during intermission, plus a performance on the pipe organ and fresh buttered popcorn. 

"This is my first time here," said a member of the audience, who attended Saturday's screening with a group of girlfriends. "It's great. They should do this more often."

Historical movie house

It was billed "America's Most Unique Suburban Playhouse" when it opened in 1928, and because of the support and renovations provided by the Motor City Theatre Organ Society, it continues to provide audiences with a unique movie experience. 

Children of all ages attend the theater not only to see classic films on the big screen, but to hear many of the musical hits made famous by these flicks, which are performed by talented members of the MCTOS on an antique Barton Theatre organ.

Some children don't even know what a pipe organ is, never mind what it might sound like.

As for why this theater is such a great place to take the family? These photos by Michigan's award-winning photographer David Dalton will give you an idea.

The old marque.
Audiences arriving for the show.
A volunteer taking tickets in the lobby.

A member of the Motor City Theatre Organ Society performs.

Some movie nights also feature a song played on the piano.
The theater is filled with beautiful details.
Its interior features Japanese-inspired decor and a ceiling covered with glowing stars.

Click on the following for a list upcoming attractions and show times:  Redford Theatre 

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