We find the Winter season the perfect time to catch up on live theater; with so many venues available the only hard part is choosing which one. Tonight we are headed to Royal Oak, we are making a night of it; dinner, show and dessert! We begin with dinner at Little Tree Sushi Bar on Main Street; serving Nu-Asian Cuisine, selections include dishes from Japan, Thailand and the Philippines, not to mention scores of Asian noodle dishes and some of the best sushi around. It is a Thursday evening, a table for two is readily available; we settle into our booth, a front row seat overlooking busy Main Street. We practically know the menu by heart, but cannot resist looking. We order the shrimp and crab puffs, three sushi rolls, and a glass of plum wine for Kris. Our order arrives all at once, as we had asked; I go for the shrimp and crab puffs first, tender and crisp outside the seafood and cream cheese filling is delightful. Along with the standard rolls found on every menu, every sushi bar has a selection of their own creations; two of our favorite here are the Rice Crispy: Tuna, avocado, spicy creamy sauce, rolled in tempura flakes, delicious! The Veggie Delight: spinach, cream cheese, cucumber, avocado, sweet gourd, asparagus and garlic mayo, rolled in sesame soy paper; one of the best veggie rolls we’ve eaten. We completed our order with the asparagus tempura roll, yum! We finished just in time to head over to the Baldwin Theatre for the 8:00 pm showtime.
Located in a nondescript building on Lafayette in downtown Royal Oak sits the Baldwin Theatre; you may not realize it, but this building has been around since 1922, really. Here’s what I learned: Designed by local architect Frederick Madison the Baldwin opened in June of 1922 to much fanfare. The place was amazing; neoclassical in style it featured a grand chandelier, frescoed walls and tinted ceilings, it had seating for 1400 eager theatre-goers and was touted as the “best appointed playhouse in Michigan outside of Detroit” by the Royal Oak Tribune. Back in the day theaters were entertainment centers; in addition to movies there were live performances, dance contests and “Ladies Free Chinaware Night”. The Baldwin played host to comedians, trained dogs, magicians, rollerskaters and escape artists. Back in the 1920′s a quarter bought you a full days entertainment (10 cents if you were a kid); the film would start at 2:30 pm, followed by Vaudeville acts, a newsreel and the theater symphony, ending at 11pm. The theatre was sold, re”deco”rated and renamed the “Washington” in 1936. In the 1950′s it also served as the community bomb shelter; they say during reconstruction a stash of water bottles and crackers turned up! 1976 brought more changes, the balcony was closed, the interior was repainted and repaired, then began showing “B” movies. In 1984 it was finally taken over by the city of Royal Oak, it was abandoned and had suffered extensive damage from a “fire not of natural origin”………..
About this time Stagecrafters theatre company was in the market for a permanent home; the city offered the building to the non-profit group, they worked out an agreement where Stagecrafters would renovate and run the theatre. One year later the Music Man was performed in what we know today as the Baldwin Theatre. The following decades brought more improvements; a Wurlitzer Pipe Organ, new ticket office, upgraded sound system, modern rigging, new carpet, curtain and seats; restoration and growth continued. Today the Baldwin is home to the Main Stage, Stagecrafters Youth Theatre and the 2nd Stage. Now that we are all up to date…….
Just as we arrived a blizzard broke out! We walked into the wind, faces downturned, towards the beautiful Baldwin Theatre sign on Lafayette. You enter on 5th avenue, the original Washington lobby is long gone. Once inside we found our seats, secured them with our coats and took a look around. The place was crowded with patrons, the big buzz was the newly refurbished restrooms upstairs, hey, it’s a big deal! The theatre retains its neoclassical style, painted in soft blue and trimmed in gold it looks elegant; lots of plaster detail here. The stage is encompassed by a proscenium arch, there’s even an orchestra pit. On each side of the stage there’s a decorative painted panel featuring the Greek God Pan, he’s the God of theatrical criticism, cast photos from each show hang on the upstairs walls. The lights flash, signaling us to take our seats; the show is about to start. We are seeing Curtains, a musical/comedy/mystery piece. We are always impressed by the local talent in community theatre, singing, dancing, wonderful sets and costumes, this group is amazing. We worked our way through the show tapping our toes and trying to figure out who-done-it, it was a surprise ending! After the curtain call we bundled up, got back in the Jeep and sought out dessert.
It was nearly 11 pm when the show ended, limiting our selection of dessert prospects. Luckily Vinotecca on Main street was open and still going strong. The long narrow space is quite attractive, a modern-earthy feel with slate tiles, stainless steel and bistro tables and booths. We were in search of something rich, chocolaty and decadent, one look at the Truffle Cake description and we were sold, it tasted even better than it sounded…..A wedge a of chocolate cake, very soft in texture, like one of those ‘lava cakes’ but even better, dark chocolate drizzle on top, served with a generous scoop of coffee ice cream and whipped cream, YUM! When we ordered our dessert the waitress informed us it was happy hour from 9 pm to close on Thursday, which meant glasses of wine were half off, who could resist that? I ordered a glass of the Tempranillo Capisto, earthy and smooth it was fabulous; what a way to end the evening! Next time you are looking for a night on the town, remember, you don’t have to look far.