By PAM HARBAUGH
While Cocoa Village Playhouse has enjoyed robust audience attendance to its many musicals, there’s another program that it’s been steadily growing.
It’s the Aladdin Film Series and it brings in a wide array of films, from silent movies and great black and white classics like “Casablanca,” to holiday favorites and sing-a-long specials, like “Mamma Mia!”
CVP artistic director Anastacia Hawkins Smith wanted to name the program the Aladdin Film Series to honor the historic playhouse’s heritage. Built in 1924, it was known as the Aladdin Theatre and was Brevard’s first movie house, originally showing silent movies and vaudeville acts, Hawkins Smith said.
“Our team has been excited about this program and working for several years to make it happen,” she said.
Elizabeth Rose makes her way all the way from Oviedo to see the films at Cocoa Village Playhouse. It’s a “really intimate feel,” she said.
“The experience starts the second you walk in,” she said. “They dim the chandeliers. If the film has music, that’s playing. There’s no competing sound. It’s the same experience as going to the (live) theater.”
Rose, who also volunteers her time to CVP’s Stars of Tomorrow program, says it’s also fun being around people who love the film they are about to see.
“When ‘Hocus Pocus’ screened, there was a whole group of people who dressed up as characters from ‘Hocus Pocus’,” she said. “That’s really cool to see people really get into it.”
The technology used for screening the movies has been in lock step with the overall technical improvements CVP keeps making.
For the first movies screened, they used the rear projection system. That was installed after CVP built its technical support annex on the east side of the main building in 2008.
Then came the digital projector which was used for the live shows and which could also be used for film.
“We then made a makeshift front projection screen,” Hawkins Smith said. “Last Christmas we were able to install a large roll down cinema screen directly behind our main theater curtain.”
That gave bigger, brighter and clearer images with the digital system.
CVP added a professional grade BluRay player and video switcher.
Leading the project is CVP associate director Jeremy Phelps. He works with an enthusiastic committee of “film buffs” to choosing which films are to be screened.
“The film series is still new and growing in popularity and attendance,” he said. Last year’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ had over 450 attendees. Our ‘Grease’ and ‘Mamma Mia!’ sing-a-long films were both strongly attended. And our Hitchcock screenings did very well.”
His committee is still working on the films to be presented in the spring and summer. They like to plan the season around holidays or special film anniversaries, like last year’s 75th anniversary of “Casablanca.”
Additionally, since CVP is a member of the League of Historic American Theatres, they connect with a network of other theaters that present classic films as well.
When silent films are screened, it is accompanied by keyboardist J. Thomas Black, Jr. who plays a digital keyboard with an “organ” mode. That sends audience member Geno Hayes into the good old days.
“(It) takes you right back to the days when silent films were actually played at the Aladdin Theater,” Hayes said. “Enjoy this trip down memory lane.”
He also likes to hear what audiences want.
Of course, the films have to be presented within CVP’s already busy schedule filled with rehearsals and performances.
“I love it,” Rose said. “The Playhouse is getting back to its roots of screening films. There’s something really special about that. The show selection is great. They’re getting the word out.”
Movies currently on the schedule for the Aladdin Film Series are:
Dec. 21: “Miracle on 34th Street,” the original 1947 film with Maureen O’Hara and John Payne playing a couple of adults who learn from a child and someone who just might be Santa, how to believe in Christmas miracles. It also stars an adorable young Natalie Wood and a most charming Edmund Green as the man who would be Santa. $6 for children, $7 seniors, students and active military, and $8 for general public.
Feb. 10: “The Covered Wagon,” a 1923 silent film classic about wagon caravans making their way west from the middle of the country. The pilgrims endure deserts, snow, hunger and a love triangle. Live accompaniment by keyboardist J. Thomas Black, Jr. $13 general admission.
The Cocoa Village Playhouse is at 300 Brevard Ave., Cocoa. Call 321-636-5050, visit CocoaVillagePlayhouse.com or click on their ad.
This is an edited version of a story running in the Melbourne Beachsider.