The Warwick Music Theatre was where many of us saw our first professional theatrical presentations and big-name entertainers up close and in person.

Many southern New Englanders have the same emotional attachment to the Warwick Music Theatre – or "The Tent," as it was often referred to – as folks in the area have for Dartmouth's former Lincoln Park.

The venue was opened in 1955 on Route 2 in Warwick, Rhode Island by Burton "Buster" Bonoff. The theater was a circus-type big top tent that offered Broadway productions featuring famous performers in lead roles.

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In 1967, Bonoff replaced the tent with a permanent theater in the round with a revolving stage. The theater shifted from theatric performances to concerts with the top entertainers of the day, including Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis, Jr., Tom Jones, Dionne Warwick, Ray Charles, Liberace, Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, Engelbert Humperdinck and John Denver.

While working in county radio in the 1990s, performers such as Vince Gill, Trisha Yearwood and others told me how much they appreciated the intimacy of the 3,300-seat theater in the round with the rotating stage, which they said was rare and mostly limited to this area.

Competition from the growing number of larger venues in the region brought about an end to the Warwick Musical Theatre. In 1998, Buster Bonoff's son Larry, who assumed the day-to-day operation of "The Tent," announced it would close the following year.

NBC 10 WJAR via YouTube
NBC 10 WJAR via YouTube

Country artist Wynonna Judd was the final act to play the Warick Musical Theatre in 1998.

The Bonoff family sold the property on Route 2, and the Warwick Musical Theatre was demolished in 2002.

South Shore Playhouse Associates operates the Cape Cod Melody Tent and the South Shore Music Circus in Cohasset, Massachusetts. Both venues are similar in design to the Warwick Musical Theatre.

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