The Last Bonoff Retires

Concert promoter Larry Bonoff, the last in a line of four generations’ worth of independent promoters in New England, has announced his retirement.

His father, Burton “Buster” Bonoff, opened the famous Warwick Musical Theatre in Rhode Island in 1955. It was a major tour stop until its closure in 1999.

Bonoff’s farewell booking is a December 8th Beach Boys performance at the Providence Performing Arts Center, where he promoted concerts since 2000.

Bonoff said a number of things led to his decision to step away from the business.

“With the casinos and all the national tours happening, I decided as a one-state, one-town promoter it was time to respectfully thank everybody for what they’ve done, and go away and have one big last party,” Bonoff told Pollstar.

He said his father knew it was time for his son to get out of the business when they learned Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut was raking in more net profit per day than he was grossing in an entire year.

“It was also hard to ask the acts who were your friends to play for you at a fair price when casinos were offering stupid money,” Bonoff said, adding that all he could do was tell the acts to take the better offer.

He said it was also difficult to keep up after the Warwick Musical Theatre closed because of the loss in ancillary income from parking, food and drink concessions. Since then, Bonoff has promoted shows at the Providence PAC and at Lincoln Greyhound Park.

Bonoff’s current project is the enormous task of sorting out a mountain of memorabilia that has piled up since his grandfather’s vaudeville days. His Bonoff Foundation hopes to find a place to house the 8,000 or so artifacts and to obtain funding to become a nonprofit company, Bonoff said.

The tent-like venue became a full-fledged, 3,300-seat theatre-in-the-round in 1967. Its heyday, as described by Bonoff, was in the mid ’70s featuring such Vegas mainstays as Tom Jones, Liberace and Engelbert Humperdinck. Larry ran the theatre along with his sister, Betsy Menders.

Bonoff credits his father for being the first to employ a revolving stage in a theatre-in-the-round configuration, and said the family’s Phoenix Star Theatre (now the 2,650-capacity Celebrity Theatre), which opened in 1963, was one of the first to bring professional entertainers to the Arizona city.

“I’m going out with my head held high, taking a new step in my life, and trying to preserve four generations of family memories and thank my family for all that they’ve given myself and my sister,” Bonoff said.

Buster Bonoff died in 2000 and his wife and business partner Barbara died of cancer in 2003.

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– Ryan Borba