The Colonie Summer Theater

The Colonie Summer Theater was THE place for summer entertainment in the Albany area in the 1960’s.  It went by many names over the years: the Colonie Musical Theater,  the Colonie Summer  Theater, the Colonie Colosseum,   and the Starlite Theater, but to locals, it was always “The Tent”.  It was the  place many baby boomer kids saw their first theater production or professional musical act.   It was theater in the round .. there was a sense of intimacy.   When it opened, there were only about 2,000 seats. It was summer theater at its best.

Some nights it was hot and steamy and still,  but there always seemed to be a slight breeze blowing through the flaps of the brightly striped orange and green iconic tent. Other nights, the excitement of the show vied for attention with the crashing and booming of  thunder and flashes of lightning.

tent 1958   colonie

1958

My family went  to the Tent at least 3 or 4 times each summer. The memory of the sights and smells of The Tent are right up there with Coppertone, swimming pool chlorine and orange Popsicles when I think of summer.

I was raised in a family with a love for  theater, especially musical theater.My brother and I were weaned on Rogers and Hammerstein LPs and gorgeous Technicolor movie musicals.  But nothing prepared me for the my first real musical theater at The Tent.  It was  thrilling and exciting,,, there was a sense of immediacy that was wonderful.  The actors and actresses entered down the aisles… right next to where you were sitting. In that small venue, it was almost like they were performing just for me.  The sound of the pit band was bright and clear.

The Tent was started by Eddie Rich, a New York City producer, in 1958.  He created  a venue that brought headliners and somewhat colibniw 1958past their prime headliners from all over, and from all aspects of show business; actors, singers, dancers, musicians.  The first production was Damn Yankees.  We went. I remember being gob smacked, and wandering around the neighborhood for at least a week singing “Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets, and little man, Lola wants you” at the t0p of my lungs, anywhere and everywhere.

My most vivid memory is a performance of Brigadoon, the Lerner ad Lowe  musical about a small village in Scotland that appears magically, once every 100 years, and then vanishes again.   There is a chase  scene in Act II.  When it began in the Tent… the performers used very inch  of the theater, running up and down the aisles; we became part of the performance.  It was if there was no distance between us.. we, the entire audience and the  actors were one. For an 11 year old, it was one of the most thrilling experiences, something only avilable in such an intimate setting.  

colonie 1958

StarlightSebastienBarre

Rich died in 1968, but the theater continued. Joe Futia took over operations and built a new, permanent structure in 1969 that replaced the old tent, but it was still theater in the round.  Even in the new building.. the farthest seat was  just over 50″ from the stage. The actual “theater’ events became  fewer over time,- but I recall seeing Gypsy and The Solid Gold Cadillac with Martha Raye in the 1970s.   Futia was terrific at booking the hottest bands and comedians of the time, at the peak of their celebrity.. Blood, Sweat and Tears, Eddie Murphy, Iron Butterfly  in one night gigs, but there were also Las Vegas style acts, like Wayne Newton, Tom Jones and Jerry Vale,  with week-long runs.

In the late 1970s, a revolving stage was constructed.  The acts started to change – a lot of country/western; there were boxing matches.  There were no more week-long productions. I think the headliners were getting ‘bigger” and didn’t want to play a smaller venue.

And then abruptly in the late 1980’s The Tent closed its doors.. mid-season.  The operators at the time canceled all remaining shows – leaving angry ticket holders. It re-opened for the 1988 season.. under the aegis of Northeast Concerts.  The first act was a double bill – Three Dog Night and America.  The Tent was now the Starlite Theater.

But the next decade was a struggle – there were several owners and it never managed to become financially  feasible again.  The halcyon years of the 1960’s and even the 1970’s were gone.  The baby boomers were occupied elsewhere.. with children and mortgages, and there were other options fro summer entertainment throughout the Capital Region and the Berkshires.

The last season was 1997; the Starlite never re-opened. It fell in to sad disrepair and was finally demolished in November 2012.

Notices and memorablia from some of the Tent performances:  1958- 1971.

 

1958-1959

colonie 1958 (2)colonie  1959  oklahomacolonie  bells 1959colonie  1959 jamaica

colonie rusell 1959

1958 1

1959  4

1959

1959N 3

CAN CAN 1958merry widow 1959

!B--nPVQ!Wk~$(KGrHqMOKkUEzJ0iNWzeBM-RbR,pVQ~~_3

1960-1962

colinie 1962 wildactecolonie 19601960  1colony 1962

Albany NY Knickerbocker News 1961 - 7485

Line at “The Music Man”  1962

music man 1962

colonie 1962

colonie 1962 (4)

colonie 1960 3

colonie 1961

colonie 1962 (2)

1960

Schenectady NY Gazette 1960 Grayscale - 2039

1963 -1966

Troy NY Times Record 1963 - 4543

colonie 1965

$(KGrHqR,!rQFB6(lCHQ4BQfbTlpJwQ~~60_3

colonie 1966 (2)

!B9FnCBwEGk~$(KGrHqUOKooEy+jC1DCGBM4)Tth9m!~~0_12

colnie 1966

Albany NY Knickerbocker News 1966 - 7113

colonie 1966

Albany NY Knickerbocker News 1966 - 5712

Schenectady NY Gazette 1966 Grayscale - 7055

1967

colonie 1967 (3)

colisum dave clark five

Albany NY Knickerbocker News 1967 - 2330

1968

Albany NY Knickerbocker News 1968 - 6389

colonie 1968

Troy NY Times Record 1968 - 7401

Troy NY Times Record 1968 - 7304

1969/70

Schenectady NY Gazette 1969 Grayscale - 9351

Schenectady NY Gazette 1969 Grayscale - 6965

Schenectady NY Gazette 1969 Grayscale - 7383

Schenectady NY Gazette 1969 Grayscale - 7845

Schenectady NY Gazette 1969 Grayscale - 8300Schenectady NY Gazette 1969 Grayscale - 8679

1971

Troy NY Times Record 1971 - 5108

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