The Ritz Theatre originally opened in September of 1927 as a vaudeville movie house. Over the course of its 90-year history, the Ritz has remained a venue for both live shows and movies. It was saved and restored in the 1980s by a group of artists and actors and began its current iteration as a theatre for the performing arts in 1986. The Ritz Theatre Company, a non-profit organization, raised enough funds to purchase the theatre in 2002 and continues to host varied and diverse productions at the Ritz. The theatre was added to the National Register of Historic Places and the New Jersey Register of Historic Places in 2002.
Theatre opened the same year the first talking movie, The Jazz Singer,
premiered in 1927 and became a community focal point. The 600-seat theatre
hosted live Vaudeville shows as well as movies, both silent and “talkies.” It was built in the Greek Revival
architectural style and many elements of that style remain to this day. For example, the 25-foot tall, neo-classical
canvas murals in the main auditorium, gilt trimmed columnns and carved
1950s, the Ritz was known for showing fine art and foreign films. However, by the 1970s, it had devolved into a
venue for adult films. It then sat
vacant for several months in 1985 until Bruce Curless
came along. Curless, beginning in 1985,
headed the efforts to transform the abandoned theatre into a performing arts
venue the community could once again be proud of. Curless founded a theatre company, known as
Puttin’ on the Ritz, comprised of local theatre aficionados, which rented out
space and began live performances while, simultaneously, raising funds and
restoring the theatre. They opened their
first season with a live performance of The Boyfriend in 1986 and
complemented it with children’s productions, which has remained a mainstay ever
theatre company, over the years, successfully renovated the Ritz, restoring its
lobby, adding chandeliers, replacing the roof, installing a new sprinkler
system, and extending the stage 19 feet beyond its marbleized columnns to
accommodate larger productions. In 1993,
the company and Curless won the mid-Atlantic Emmy for the Adventures of
Ritzy the Wolf, with Curless himself playing Ritzy. In 2000, the theatre opened the Ritz Gallery
to exhibit artwork from the tri-state area.
Next, in 2002, Curless’ theatre company changed its name to the Ritz
Theatre Company, a non-profit organization, and purchased the theatre. In order to assist with fundraising, the Ritz
hosted its first ever variety show, Rock the Ritz, along with a
children’s favorite, The Little Mermaid in 2014. Most recently, the Ritz updated its marquee
with digital displays and added rock shows and stand-up comedy routines in an
attempt to attract younger, larger and more diverse audiences.
the Ritz’s season consists of six mainstage and eleven children’s shows, to
include dramas, musicals, dance and poetry.
It also features holiday productions, special events, a summer theatre
festival, an all-children’s production, dramatic workshops and outreach
programs. Please call the theatre or
visit their webpage for specific shows, dates and times.