Queens Theatre in the Park reigns as boro’s best venue

Upcoming performances at Queens Theatre in the Park include the St. Petersburg Ballet, which visits Flushing Meadows Feb. 28−March 1.
By Ronald B. Hellman

Things change. The New York Times now prints ads on its front page, my collar size has not been 15 12 for many years and the Brooklyn Dodgers are long gone. I don’t want to claim that the good old days were all that good, just because I’ve been around a while, but it sure seems that many things were a lot better way back when.

These thoughts were prompted by a Saturday night out at Queens Theatre in the Park with my first wife and a couple of friends to see “Neil Berg’s 100 Years of Broadway.” Six talented performers sang a lot of great songs from Broadway’s golden age — memorable tunes and memorable lyrics. What we have now on the Great White Way is something else, a tourist−driven industry that knows that shows for children sell tickets and special effects carry the day.

Three of the top five shows by gross receipts in 2008, according to the Broadway League, were “Wicked,” “The Lion King” and “The Little Mermaid”, with Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and Abba supplying the words and music for “Jersey Boys” and “Mamma Mia” in the other two. No wonder that this season we have such revivals as “Gypsy,” “South Pacific,” “Pal Joey,” “Guys and Dolls” and “West Side Story” for those of us who can appreciate the difference.

Something that is better than it used to be is Queens Theatre in the Park, which promotes itself as the premier performing arts venue in Queens. Although Queens College has the Kupferberg Center at Colden Auditorium and Queensborough Community College runs a performance program, there’s not much competition. Located in Flushing Meadows−Corona Park, QTIP is in a building designed for the 1964−65 World’s Fair, which was operated as a theater by various organizations until it was renovated and re−opened in 1993.

A member of New York City’s Cultural Institutions Group, QTIP has a main stage with almost 500 seats and a studio space with 99 seats. It presents more than 300 performances a year and is home to several ethnic festivals. Now that a $23 million expansion has been completed, it offers a lot more to its primary audiences from Queens and Long Island.

Among the new facilities are a lobby and reception area of some 3,000 square feet, an 85−seat cafÉ⁄cabaret, and a restaurant for pre−show lunch and dinner.

“We’re looking to attract a younger audience,” says Executive Director Jeffrey Rosenstock, “as well as making things more comfortable and pleasant for our current patrons.”

The beautiful and spacious setting of the new public area will also be available for private events and receptions.

Although QTIP has sustained serious funding cuts from government and private sources, its box office income has remained at a high level. Rosenstock attributes strong ticket sales to its history of quality and affordable programs, and its convenient location versus a trip to Manhattan.

As I write this column, talking about change, Barack Obama has just been inaugurated as our 44th president. I hope you saw the “We Are One” concert on the National Mall and took in the inauguration itself. What a great day for America! Times are tough, but in the words of civil−rights leaders in the 1960’s: “We ain’t where we’re going, but we sure ain’t where we were.”

Contact Ron Hellman at RBH24@Columbia.edu.

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