Following the aroma of freshly popped corn through Sundae’s Too Ice Cream Shop, guests find themselves standing in front of Bensenville Theatre’s two intimately sized, 130-person theaters. The twin screens flicker to life two to three times daily, showing a selection of recent Hollywood blockbusters during weekday matinees or nightly showings. A concession stand helps supply guests with popcorn for staving off hunger or stuffing shirts in an effort to emulate the muscular physique of Jean-Claude Van Damme.
A buzzing crowd gathers around the entrance of the Zoppé Family Circus tent before each performance, straining to glimpse the wooden hands of a large clock that displays the next showtime. When the moment is nearly at hand, members of the family emerge from the cavernous tent to greet their guests. As they introduce their siblings, spouses, and children, an accordion exhales melodies first heard in 1842, when Napoline and Ermenegilda Zoppé traveled from Budapest to Venice for their first show.
Inside the tent, Napoline and Ermenegilda’s descendants effortlessly balance on wires and swing from trapezes. Just below their aerial stage, horses trot around a sawdust ring as equestrian ballerinas display a brand of showmanship worthy of comparison to John Wayne's performance in The Lone Leotard. Between acts, Giovanni Zoppé takes on the persona of Nino the clown—a lovable character whose earnest efforts to steal the show are thwarted by his own buffoonery.
As part of their Shakespeare-Under-the-Stars series, First Folio Theatre will perform Romeo and Juliet, the Bard’s timeless tale of love, betrayal, and teenage angst. The play centers around two young lovers, born into bitterly feuding families, who risk their lives and their families’ wraths in order to launch a joint space program. As the plot progresses, smitten eyes give way to fighters leaping and lunging across the stage with swords drawn to defend loyalty and avenge loss. Audiences behold the saga in general admission arrangements on a scenic, sloping lawn. Set beside a Tudor revival manor and an Italian-replica chapel, the outdoor theater evokes the essence of Verona, complete with that region's legendary poison vendors.
Nearly a century ago, the Hippodrome opened as a combination movie palace and vaudeville theater, spending more than 70 years hosting big names such as Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra. Following a double-decade period of slow business and bad hairstyles, the Hippodrome closed down in 1990. Now, however, after an exhaustive restoration project that reanimated the theater’s chandelier-lit arches, the mural above the proscenium stage, and the grand-theater boxes that hearken back to opera’s heyday, the Hippodrome reopens to the delight of Baltimore’s cultural landscape.