Region rats took to social media yesterday, expressing shock and sadness over the sudden news that the Star Plaza Theatre in Merrillville, Indiana is slated for demolition in spring 2017.
Much can be written about what it meant economically, culturally, and socially for Merrillville, Gary, and the Region, but like my fellow rats it was pleasant and hilarious memories that immediately came to mind.
There were memories most Region kids share: a few chamber concerts in elementary school, commencements (Merrillville High School in 1995, Indiana University Northwest in 1999). There were blurry memories of being dragged to a few Easter Sunrise Services, and rejoicing when our church leaders stopped participating in the “showy” spectacle.
There were personal memories: In our teenage cruising years we would try to note showtimes so to AVOID the area before and after. The entrance to the complex is consistently one of the most dangerous in the county.
But the family memories are my favorites: Seeing Bob Hope and Patty Page with my dad and his mother, three generations at the show, in the early 1990s. I still have the program.
More recently my dad’s Greek friends scored us free tickets to see George Thorogood, who oozed stage charisma to an adoring audience. The Fabulous Thunderbirds, well, one Thunderbird and three ringers, opened.
Perhaps my favorite show of all time — at least the one I brag most about — was seeing Stevie Ray Vaughn with my dad, his blues-loving friend Brad (we were all blues-loving), my friend Scott, and his dad. I was twelve. Ernie Isley opened. A sober SRV was touring in support of his latest album In Step. A man a few rows behind us kept leaping up and dancing elastically in the aisle, despite continued orders to sit down by the staff. The show was so loud and long it assaulted my immune system and I got sick at school the next day. I still have two t-shirts from the show. I’m listening to Riviera Paradise as I type this.
But the memory that will always make me smirk is my favorite. In 2010 our Greek friends joined my father, myself, and my then-girlfriend to see Bill Maher. They brought their wives. This made for hilarious discomfort when Maher went on a rant about boring monogamous, married sex (“wife pussy”) which he kept up for most of the rest of the show, with frequent and sometimes random utterances of the phrase “wife pussy.” My father, like most of the audience, was in hysterics. Hell, my mother wasn’t there! My girlfriend and I were in hysterics. Hell, we weren’t married! Wife pussy. But the Greek wives did not look amused and our Greek husband-friend looked scared to move. Which made us laugh even harder.