By STEVEN HOWELL
---- — MONTREAL — From swing to sing-alongs, classic crooners to cover bands, Montreal’s majestic Rialto Theatre is enjoying a rebirth with a variety of original programming.
The Rialto, built as a movie theater in 1924, screened Hollywood film classics up until the 1960s.
“But like a lot of the older movie theaters, it went through a rough period beginning in the late 1970s,” owner Ezio Carosielli said.
The tough times for the Rialto lasted well into the 1980s and 1990s. During the last decade or so, the Rialto booked only sporadic engagements.
Enter Carosielli, who had some big plans for the space when he purchased it three years ago.
“It’s still a great-looking building from the outside and inside as well,” he said. “It was very solid. It had great bones. We saw the potential.”
While Carosielli and his team saw big potential, the entertainment industry wasn’t his first calling.
“I had the misfortune of being a lawyer,” Carosielli quipped. “But I always had an interest in the arts in a roundabout way.”
Another selling point for Carosielli was the location. The theater is in Montreal’s iconic Mile End neighborhood, which is just north of the Plateau district not far from Mount Royal Park.
“We’re in a great neighborhood,” Carosielli said. “It’s full of artistic people, and that helps us out.”
Carosielli and his team restored the space and added separate, smaller halls as well as a restaurant.
“We put in as much money as we spent to buy it,” he said.
And as soon as they signed the deal, “We started booking shows immediately,” he said.
Carosielli opted for a wide variety of programming that includes tribute bands, concerts, opera, circus acts, stand-up comedy, thematic movie nights and evenings of dance.
“We’re looking for things that are interesting and different,” Carosielli said.
Tribute bands are one of the Rialto’s most popular offerings.
“Tribute shows like Motown themes and The Beatles got us started, and we still love booking those acts,” he said.
And you don’t just get a show, you often get dinner as well.
“We kind of found a niche, as there aren’t many dinner theaters in Montreal,” Carosielli said.
Thematic dance nights such as tango, swing and salsa are also immensely popular. The night usually begins with a lesson and demonstration, with everyone then invited to dance.
“The tango, swing, salsa and rockabilly communities are very loyal crowds,” Carosielli said. “These are micro-communities within the city where everybody knows everybody, and everybody else is invited.”
Carosielli offers a suggestion if visiting an upcoming dance eve: Come dressed for salsa or swing success.
“People really do dress up for these events,” he said.
How is Carosielli’s tango?
“For the safety of everyone involved, I don’t dance,” Carosielli quipped.
Thematic movie nights are another popular hit. For example, a screening of “Titanic” had the crowd all decked out as first-, second- and third-class passengers. And on Spaghetti Western night, the menu choice for the evening? Spaghetti, of course.
Carosielli has high hopes for the Rialto’s future.
“We’re always looking for bigger and better acts,” he said. “I enjoy a wide variety of programming, and I think our audience does as well.”
Steven Howell is the author of Montreal Essential Guide, a Sutro Media iPhone travel app available at iTunes.com.UPCOMING SHOWS Some upcoming performances at the Rialto Theatre include Opera Immediat's production of the classic "Romeo and Juliet" on Saturday and Sunday, April 6 and 7. Tickets range from $25 to $45. "Sing-a-Long-a Sound of Music" offers the classic musical on the big screen, complete with karaoke-style words to favorite tunes, on Sunday, April 14. Tickets cost $20. Pastaopera, also on April 14, is a unique evening of classic opera and dinner -- with songs sung by the chef, himself. The show and a dinner of antipasti, ravioli and veal parmesan costs $50. Tribute shows include "Elvis: Viva Las Vegas" on Saturday, May 4; Colin Hunter's "Come Fly with Me," a tribute to Frank Sinatra on Friday, May 10; and "Replay the Beatles" on Sunday, May 12. Show tickets cost $25 or $40; with dinner, $75. Chubby Checker comes to the Rialto on Saturday, May 18. Show tickets range from $35 to $60; with dinner, from $105 to $125. Judy Collins performs on Sunday, June 9. Show with dinner ranges from $60 to $95. Balcony seating costs $35 to $50. Upcoming dance theme nights include Grand Bal Tango on Sunday, March 31 ($15); Jive Fest from Thursday, April 18, to Sunday, April 21 ($15); and Rialto Swings on Thursday, April 25 ($12). The Rialto Theatre is at 5719 Ave. du Parc, Montreal. For more info., including times, call the box office at (514) 770-7773 or visit www.theatrerialto.ca.