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Puttin’ on the Ritz: The History of the Ritz Theatre


The Ritz Theatre of Haddon Township is well awarded and well known for their magnificent productions. But, what is the history of the theater? How did it all start?

Let’s rewind to 97 years ago, back when The Ritz was first opened. In September of 1927, The Ritz Theatre was first opened as a vaudeville theater. Vaudevilles were the pinnacle of American entertainment in the early 20th century. Vaudeville acts usually consisted of a mixture of burlesque, comedy, song, and dance acts. The musical, Sugar Babies, which The Ritz did in 2013, is a wonderful example of what a vaudeville looked like. The rise of vaudevilles gave the theater an important sense of community. 

The times were quickly changing, and The Ritz along with it. By the 50s and 60s, The Ritz had moved on to screening movies. The theater was popularized for its screenings of foreign movies and acting as an art gallery for local artists. Movies like Mon Petit, The Nun’s Story, Beloved Infidel, and Magician were some of the movies shown. 

In the 1970s, it became an adult movie house, but was shut down in early 1985. Luckily, it was reopened later that same year. 

On October 7th, 1985, Puttin’ on The Ritz Inc., a theater company led by Bruce A. Curless, swooped in and saved the day. 

In 1986, the theater opened for their first performance season, starting with The Boyfriend. During this season, the character “Ritzy” would make its debut in the children’s theater program. Ritzy would have an ongoing series within the children’s theater program called The Adventures of Ritzy the Wolf. The Adventures of Ritzy the Wolf would go on to win two Emmys.  

The 90s start off with a bang. Children of a Lesser God is the first show with ASL-interpreting that The Ritz produces. This is the beginning of a long-standing commitment to make theater more accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing. As the decade goes on, The Ritz is getting the recognition it deserves. The Adventures of Ritzy the Wolf won a Mid-Atlantic Emmy in 1993 and 1994.

In 1995, Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, composers of the 42 year running show The Fantasticks, wrote a new version of the musical Celebration for the The Ritz and attended opening night of the production. The latter part of the 90s saw The Ritz continue its wave of recognition with numerous Philadelphia Barrymore Award nominations between their production of Sweeney Todd, Little Shop of Horrors and the theater’s outreach programs. 

Theater royalty again came to The Ritz in 2001. Musical and Disney composer, Stephen Schwartz, wrote the music for an original production called The Magick and the Music. In the same year, the theater received a Cultural Enrichment Grant from the State of New Jersey. In 2002, The Ritz Theatre Company became the official name of the theater and the building was purchased and listed in the New Jersey State and the National Register of Historic Places.

For the next decade, the theater continued its work in the community with various productions and embraced technology to accommodate groups like the deaf and hard of hearing with their DVD of the performance of Spamalot. Box office records were broken in 2011 with the premiere of Hairspray and the 2012 introduction of Camden County June Theatre Festival debuted 28 productions in 30 days.

The Ritz faced financial difficulties but always managed to rise above it with creativity and community. In 2014, they raised $100,000 with the social media campaign “Save The Ritz”. Rock The Ritz became the theater’s first fundraising variety show. Like the rest of the world in 2020, the pandemic impacted The Ritz with the doors closing for 15 months. The show went on with a variety of virtual programming and a telethon featuring many well-known and loved Ritz performers bringing music and theater to people’s homes.

Since its grand reopening in 2021, The Ritz has continued to provide seasons with diverse plays and musicals. The remaining shows of the 2023-2024 season include Heathers: The Musical, Gint, and West Side Story. The upcoming 2024-2025 season includes Jesus Christ Superstar, Dracula, Roger and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Angels In America, Part 1: Millennium Approaches, Kinky Boots, Julius Caesar, Sister Act, Angels In America, Part 2: Perestroika, and The Wizard of Oz. Help to keep The Ritz’s rich history going, go catch a show. 

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