By CHAD HAIGHT
As we walked up a Bremerton sidewalk toward the Admiral Theatre recently, I turned to my wife Jacki and asked, “What if I were to tell you that we could reorient our entire nightlife experience to Bremerton?” We laughed at the thought as we walked into the 1940s renovated Admiral Theatre at Pacific Avenue and Fifth Street in downtown Bremerton.
And then we stopped laughing as we sat down at a beautifully set table with linen tablecloths, a stone’s throw away from the stage. We were there to see Doc Severinsen, the former band leader for “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” We were literally blown away! Not only was Doc still at full strength, but the entire experience was so unexpected at a venue so near to where we live on Bainbridge Island.
We, like most islanders, had always looked toward Seattle for arts and entertainment. There is no doubting the appeal of Broadway shows at The Paramount or 5th Avenue theaters. Seattle is highly regarded for its incredible theater scene. Major acts fill KeyArena and Century Link Field for concerts and major performances.
But a night in Seattle has its price. Tickets are expensive. A performance at The 5th Avenue Theatre can take its toll; dinner, a show, ferry, and parking costs can easily exceed $400. A two-hour performance is padded with three hours of commute time and that late-night ride home saps every milligram of Vitamin E from your body. Recovery extends into the following day. It all sounded so easy when we first moved to Bainbridge, but the truth is that Seattle is not really that accessible.
Islanders have seen an arts explosion closer to home. Bainbridge Performing Arts is now putting on first-rate theatrical performances right here where we live. Poulsbo’s Jewel Box Theatre stages theatrical productions, and Silverdale’s Central Stage Theatre of County Kitsap (CSTOCK) has ramped up the quality of its performances. We are blessed with an art film theater at Lynwood Center.
Just ask the folks at the Bainbridge Island Arts & Humanities Council about the burgeoning arts scene on Bainbridge and in Kitsap County and you’ll find an often unrecognized plethora of opportunities nearby.
Which leads this story back to the Admiral Theatre in Bremerton: It is one of Kitsap’s best-kept secrets.
I recently interviewed with the Admiral for a position there. The first question asked of me was, “How many times have you attended the Admiral Theatre?” I sheepishly confessed, “Never. I’ve driven by the theater a number of times during the day. I thought the theater was closed.” Amazingly, they hired me anyway. That’s when my discovery of this hidden treasure began.
The Admiral Theatre originally opened as a movie theater in 1942. It flourished for many years, serving the people of Bremerton and the surrounding military communities for many years until it closed in the 1989. Islander Ruth Enderle and the Bremerton Economic Redevelopment Council spearheaded a drive to renovate and reopen the theater in 1997. The Admiral Theatre was reorganized as a nonprofit entity, raising $4.2 million for the needed work. The City of Bremerton, which owns the building, spearheaded a downtown redevelopment effort. The theater is now run by Executive Director Brian Johnson and a supportive board of directors.
Rebranded as a performing arts center, the new Admiral Theatre began booking major acts, adding a dinner-theater capability, and adding the technical capabilities to stage everything from theatrical musicals to one-man performances to major concerts.
Attempting to appeal to an all-ages demographic, the theater has welcomed a number of stage productions like “Menopause, The Musical,” “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “Footloose,” and — on April 24 at 7 p.m. — “Hair, The Broadway Musical.”
Solo acts have included Leo Kottke, Judy Collins, Richie Havens, Arlo Guthrie, Roger McGuinn, and Chris Isaak. The Big Band sound of Duke Ellington, Doc Severinsen and Cab Calloway have graced the stage of the Admiral. Comedy acts like Joan Rivers and The Smothers Brothers have brought the house down. From theater to comedy to rock to country, there’s something for everyone at this venue.
And the community has responded. Most shows are sponsored by local businesses and season sponsors like Kitsap Bank, Reid Real Estate, and West Hills Auto Plex. Other businesses sponsor individual shows. And the people have been huge supporters. Build it and they will come. A steady stream of people from Seattle, Tacoma and Kitsap County regularly buy up all of the 1,000 seats available.
And the Admiral is affordable. Ticket prices range from $10 to $60 for dinner and a show. Two bars support the main floor and balcony seating. There’s not a bad seat in the house. The Admiral produces a season of shows that run from September through June. The theater is also available for weddings, meetings, auctions, or any other group gatherings. You can arrange for full dining services and technical requirements for sound, video, and lighting, as required.
So it’s actually possible to reorient your night life to Bremerton. Just a half-hour away from the island, great theater, entertainment, and dining is available and affordable. Check out the website, www.admiraltheatre.org, for upcoming performances.
— Chad Haight is director of operations at the Admiral Theatre. Formerly, he founded Sasquatch Books, a book publishing company in Seattle. He has lived on Bainbridge Island since 1978.