Driving into Marine City, bright lights can be seen from a distance, Riverbank Theatre glows brightly at night, enticing patrons to drop by and check out a show. Just a few years old, Riverbank Theatre is regularly attracting crowds from Detroit, Ann Arbor, and beyond with professional, Broadway-level talent. Located in downtown Marine City within the historic Marine Savings Bank Building, the theater produces up to 12 musicals and plays each year. It also features thriving Performing Arts Academy.
Actors bring Dr. Seuss to life in "Seussical the Musical."/Photo by Chamira Young
Owners Tom and Kathy Vertin wanted to bring great shows to the community and have invested in two theaters in the city. First, The Snug in 2013, and then the Riverbank Theatre in 2014.
Impact felt in Marine City and beyond
The theater's impact is being felt in Marine City and easily radiates into the metro Detroit area. Last season alone roughly 17,000 patrons attended productions at Riverbank. But when people come to town to see a show, the effects flow over into the community. Most attendees will have dinner before the show, stop into local shops, and familiarize themselves with Marine City’s terrific riverfront. In the last five years, 13 new businesses have opened in the area, so Marine City is becoming a household name to metro Detroiters looking for a unique, small-town experience.
Bringing Broadway to Marine City
Riverbank Theatre’s first musical production was "Hello, Dolly!," which was also one of the first shows at The Snug Theatre in 2013. In essence, it launched their reputation for high-quality work, proving a grand production could be effectively scaled to fit a smaller space. Another pivotal production was last season's "Sister Act, the Musical," which was so popular the run had to be extended twice.
The Cat in the Hat creates mischief./Photo by Chamira Young"People commented that it was on par with what they would expect from The Fox or Fisher Theatres in Detroit," says Aaron Dennis Smith, managing director of Riverbank Theater's Performing Arts Academy.
When Broadway actor and playwright, James Hindman, met with Riverbank to arrange the performance of his production "Popcorn Falls" in Marine City, leaders knew they were on to something big. The show featured two Broadway actors and was directed by Tony-award winning director, Christian Borle. It was also extended due to its popularity. Hindman plans to write and perform another play this season, and Borle plans to return to direct another play.
Fostering growth on an individual level
In addition to bringing high-quality, entertaining productions to the area, Riverbank Theatre is also fostering individual growth in the participants of the Performing Arts Academy.
Many elementary and middle school age performers have benefited greatly from the classes, which help them gain valuable performance skills in the areas of vocal technique, acting, and dancing.
"Our classes allow students to apply concrete acting and singing skills to their natural talent, and we have seen this as a great benefit to our students," says Smith. "This allows them better opportunities of being cast in our main stage productions here at Riverbank Theatre, as well as pursuing theatrical opportunities elsewhere."
Over the last six years, the academy has seen many of its young adult performers go on to pursue theater as a profession. Several have attended the University of Michigan, the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, Oakland University, and Rochester College to pursue theater or musical theater degrees. The students often come back and perform in shows when they are able.
"We see every experience as a chance for growth," Smith says enthusiastically.
Future plans could be a game-changer for the region
The Riverbank Theatre continues to grow each season, adding more performances to each production run, more classes within the Performing Arts Academy, and attracting extraordinary talent that keeps shows on a truly professional theatrical level.Riverbank Theatre is bringing Broadway-quality shows to Marine City./Photo by Chamira Young
To keep the momentum and draw even more talent and crowds to the area, plans are in the works to launch a stage festival spanning four venues in St. Clair and Marine City. It would run for the entire summer, much like Ontario's very successful Stratford and Shaw festivals.
"The economic impact of something of this nature could be a true game-changer for the region," says Smith. "The festival and academy would be based out of the old Riverview East school building in St. Clair and would drive tourism to the entire region."
The Riverbank Theatre is currently running "Seussical the Musical" through March 18. Upcoming shows include "A Maritime Concert," "Titanic the Musical," and "Thoroughly Modern Millie."
To learn more about Riverbank Theatre and see a list of upcoming shows, go to https://www.riverbanktheatre.com/