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Beloved landmark enters a new era

ONCE A GRAND movie palace, the old theater on Main Street in Plymouth will open its doors once again this weekend as The Flying Monkey Movie House and Performance Center. (Brendan Berube) (click for larger version)
July 21, 2010
PLYMOUTH — A beloved local landmark will begin a new chapter in its long and storied life this weekend, as the Main Street theater where generations of Plymouth residents flocked to see the latest blockbusters reclaims its place as the region's entertainment mecca.

The brainchild of Alex Ray, founder and owner of the Common Man family of restaurants, The Flying Monkey Movie House and Performance Center promises visitors a unique mix of live entertainment and celluloid history that Ray hopes will make a night out on the town what it used to be — fun.

THE FIRST PHASE of construction on The Flying Monkey included the addition of dining areas (seen here in the foreground) to the first-floor theater. (Brendan Berube) (click for larger version)
Ray, who purchased the theater in December of 2009 and kept it in operation as a movie house until this past March, when he closed it for renovations, said during an interview last week that his vision for the building extends far beyond movies.

Over the past few years, he explained, the motion picture industry has met with a variety of "drawbacks," from the development of widescreen televisions to increasing pressure from competitors like Netflix.

The industry, he added, has also become increasingly aggregated, with fewer distributors controlling a greater number of films, driving up prices for exhibitors and, ultimately, consumers.

Going to the movies today is "not social fun anymore" due to the cost involved, he said, adding that his objective is to make The Flying Monkey "socially interactive again."

Originally built in 1928 as a Vaudeville-style theater, the Flying Monkey was converted into a move theater in the 1950s with the addition of a new lobby and a balcony overlooking the theater itself.

In the 1980's, the building's owners divided it down the middle to create a second screen.

Ray's vision for The Flying Monkey entailed two phases of construction.

Phase one, which will make its debut during this weekend's grand re-opening celebration, involved gutting the two existing movie theaters and combining them into a single 400-seat theater that will play host to live concerts and local theatrical productions.

New riser and balcony sections were also installed at the back of the theater, providing space for reserved table seating, where patrons will be able to enjoy food and drinks during performances.

During Phase One, Ray's crew also made improvements to the lighting and infrastructure surrounding the stage; re-configured the main entrance and concession stand; and uncovered balcony seating that existed during the building's early years.

The second floor balcony, overlooking the main lobby and the theater, was also opened up during Phase One to create room for a full-service bar and a lounge area where guests will be able to kick back and enjoy shows from the comfort of a couch or recliner.

"We wanted it to be much more cosmopolitan," Ray said, explaining that the focal point of the new lobby will be an elegant crystal chandelier.

Phase Two of the renovations, which Ray hopes will be completed by next year, includes the construction of a new stadium-seating theater downstairs where area residents will be treated to an on-going series of classic silent films, along with a kitchen, a billiard room, and a multi-purpose "black box" theater for meetings, workshops and other community events.

"There's a lot of talent here building the place," Ray said, commending Samyn D'Elia Architects and CCI Construction for their work on the project.

Ray also singled out Art Goodwin, who he described as his "detail man," and Common Man Vice President Diane Downing, who collected the fabrics and vintage decorations that will give the interior of The Flying Monkey its unique feel.

"I did all the things that work good she did all the things that look good," he said.

For Ray, the process of reviving The Flying Monkey has been a true labor of love — one that he hopes will bring good to the local community.

"This has been my hometown for about 40 years," he said, explaining that when he first embarked on the project, he thought it would be a way of "bringing my life home to where I live."

Over the past few months, however, Ray said the project has turned into something that had an impact on the community far beyond anything he could have imagined.

"It's gone from that to 'Well, this will be a good thing for the area,'" he said.

The Flying Monkey is set to open its doors tomorrow night (Friday, July 23) with an all-star lineup of rock and blues legends, including James Montgomery; David Hull, bass player for the Joe Perry Project; the Uptown Horns, who have recorded with the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, James Brown, the B-52's, Robert Plant, Aretha Franklin, and R.E.M.; and the Brooks Young Band, an up-and-coming blues outfit.

Tickets for tomorrow night's show can be purchased online at www.thecman.com or at the Common Man Lincoln, Common Man Inn & Spa in Plymouth, Lakehouse Grille in Meredith, or Tilt'n Diner in Tilton. Phone orders can be placed at 536-2251.

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