A long, silver hook reflected the light as it ran back and forth menacingly against the crimson curtain. Some children tensed as it became clear Peter Pan's archenemy was about to take the stage.

The beloved classic was one of 11 shows geared for preschoolers through 12-year-olds in the first season of children's offerings at the lovingly restored Broadway Theatre of Pitman.

Peter Pan . . . A Musical

performed to a packed house in its three weekend performances earlier this month - yet another sign of revival for the 82-year-old former vaudeville house. The first two weekends in June, the theater will add another dimension, showcasing teen talent in a production of the musical

Grease

.

"The Broadway is the last true movie palace in all of South Jersey," said Allen F. Hauss, author of

South Jersey Movie Houses

.

The theater's rich history includes famous crooners and comedians; silent films accompanied by a Kimball pipe organ still maintained today; country stars such as Dolly Parton and Barbara Mandrell in the 1970s, and an HBO show that won a CableACE award, Hauss said.

That tradition nearly slipped away when the theater fell into bankruptcy a few years ago. Pitman resident Peter Slack, owner of a medical publishing company, came to the rescue, purchasing the theater at sheriff's sale for about $350,000, marshaling volunteers to help with around $650,000 in renovations, and bringing back live entertainment and classic movies.

"It looks like the day it opened," Hauss said.

During the

Peter Pan

matinee, children sat enthralled - some on the edge of their seats - as Michael, Wendy and John made their way to Never Never Land with the help the boy who would never grow up. Some grew frightened when Hook, played by Chuck Bennett of Philadelphia, took the stage.

Bennett, a veteran of live theater for more than 30 years, produces and directs the theater's children's series. As "Mr. Malcolm and his Storytime Friends," he performs at schools, libraries and for scout troops and other organizations in Philadelphia and New Jersey.

Marsha Corbett of Deptford attended the matinee with her 5-year-old daughter, Genevieve. It was their second visit to the Broadway, having enjoyed

Charlotte's Web

earlier this year.

"I think it's a great way to introduce children to live theater," Corbett said. "Mr. Malcolm really reaches out to the children. He truly captivates them with his shows, and his audience participation is wonderful. All the children wanted to go up on stage when he asked for volunteers."

"Michael was my favorite part," Genevieve said. "Hook was scary, but Peter Pan was funny."

Next up in the children's season is

The Little Mermaid

on June 20 and 21 and

Winnie-the-Pooh

on July 19. The theater also is offering a summer camp.

The Broadway has offered a full adult season, called Main Stage, since it reopened.

Damn Yankees

,

The Mousetrap

and

The Music Man

are left on the bill this year.

Deciding which show should christen the newly renovated theater in January 2007 wasn't difficult, said Pat Mangano, general manager.

"We picked

Gypsy

because it was set in 1926 [the year the Broadway opened] and was originally done on a vaudeville stage," she said. The opening performance sold out.

Attendance continues to be robust, Mangano said, sometimes requiring additional dates to meet the demand. The theater now has about 6,000 season subscribers.

The teens in

Grease

have been practicing weekends since February. The performance, double-casted to increase participation, is being produced by Mangano's son, Jason Phillips of Bellmawr. The show opens June 6.

Josie Andrews, 13, of Bellmawr, daughter of U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews, will play Sandy the first weekend. She said she was enchanted with the building's history.

"It's such a good venue for the theater; it's all dark wood and allows for a very good-sized audience," Andrews said.

The Broadway's elegance - the brass railings, intricate plasterwork, the hand-painted scrollwork moldings trimmed in gold leaf surrounding the stage and mezzanine boxes - might have been lost if not for Slack, Mangano said.

"The volunteers and local people put a lot of time and effort into this," Slack said. "Our community came together to make it happen and still come together to attend the shows. It's definitely become a community meeting place."

If You Go

For information on the Broadway Theatre's shows and ticket prices, call 856-384-8381 or go to

.

org