It seems like every Marbleheader has a Warwick Cinema story. Whether it’s discovering a hidden gem, eating popcorn while watching the latest blockbuster, or even just glancing up at the iconic marquee on Pleasant Street, there’s no doubt that the Warwick is an institution.
The theater, which celebrated its 100th birthday last year, is in the midst of a bit of a transformation. Owner Johnny Ray, who also owns neighboring The Beacon Restaurant & Bar along with business partner Edgar Alleyne, is getting The Warwick’s two cinema spaces ready to host live events — a continuation of sorts from the live music performances at the Beacon.
As Ray explains it, The Warwick will continue to show first-run movies (the theatre’s current offerings are “Knock at the Cabin” and “80 for Brady”) while also adding an additional revenue stream in the form of live events and even corporate engagements.
“The idea of having a portable stage in the theater and putting on shows, it’s kind of a nice idea. It’s a good direction to go in,” he said, adding that currently, events are being held solely in Cinema One, the larger of the two. “We feel like this aspect of the business is underutilized.”
“Yes, you’ll see first-run movies here, but you can also book a corporate event, you can do a PowerPoint presentation and have it catered by The Beacon restaurant,” he added.
But, Ray is also investing in improving the moviegoing experience.
“We’re on the verge of upgrading a lot of equipment,” he said.
A new popcorn machine, which he dubbed a “long overdue” upgrade, is about to make its debut, and the projection systems, which Ray said have not been upgraded since the Warwick’s renovation a decade ago, are set to be upgraded and replaced with LED projectors and screens.
“It’s just going to be an even better movie experience,” he said.
Moviegoers will also be able to order items from the restaurant’s menu and eat them in their seats, as tray tables are installed on seats in Cinema Two. Ray added that not every item on the restaurant’s menu would translate to a movie theater, so the dining options will be slightly pared down.
“You don’t want to bring in a giant swordfish chop with all the fixings, people around you would just not appreciate that at all,” he said.
The Warwick also features a bar of its own — where moviegoers can order beer, wine, and cocktails.
Ray does not program The Warwick’s movie offerings, instead leaving that responsibility to Cinema Director Harold Blank.
In addition to first-run movies, The Warwick also show classics once a month, a program set by Marc Wortman— with this month’s offering slated to be “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which will screen on Feb. 19 at 10 a.m.
A resident of Marblehead for the last three decades, Ray grew up in Brookline going to the Coolidge Corner Theater — another independent cinema seeking to persevere in an age of streaming and corporate chains. He said keeping The Warwick open, despite the challenges of running a theater, was of critical importance.
“I just love it,” he said. “Every town, if possible, should have a place like this. It’s important. I’d hate to see it go. I don’t think it ever will. It’s a really important part of any community, like a library, or a bank, or the restaurants.”