KERNSTOWN— When "The Greatest Showman" was released in theaters in 2017, Herb and Dawn Dinius immediately fell in love with the musical.
On Thursday night, at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Winchester, the Inwood, West Virginia, couple took their fandom to the next level and watched the film for the 100th time in a theater.
Dawn, 56, recalled being interested in the movie ever since the trailers were released, but said she was initially hesitant to ask Herb, 64, if he wanted to go because he doesn’t like musicals. But when the couple finally saw the movie on New Year's Eve in 2017, at the Alamo, both were immediately blown away. Within seconds of the film starting, Dawn thought, “This is going to be the best movie I’ve ever seen.”
“We sat there, in this theater, and at the end of it looked at each other and said, ‘I think I’ve just seen the perfect movie,’” Herb said.
They ended up seeing the movie five times that week.
“We were kind of laughing because we saw it five times,” Dawn said. “But then we thought, ‘If we do five, we could do 10.’ And then when we hit 10, we were like ‘maybe we can do 15. And then when we hit 15 we can stop.’ Well, we just loved this so much we kept going every chance we got."
"The Greatest Showman," a musical about the adventures of the American showman P.T. Barnum starring Hugh Jackman, was one of the most successful releases in the 11-year history of the local Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. Despite a mixed reception from film critics — who Herb called "snobs" — the movie was a box office success. The film received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song and found a second life with a wildly popular Sing-Along version released by the studio.
Herb and Dawn ultimately screened the movie 77 times during its original release and then three other times in subsequent releases. The Alamo Cinema Drafthouse in Winchester reopened for moviegoers on July 1, after being forced to close for several months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the movies showing on reopening week was "The Greatest Showman."
Alamo Programming and Promotions Director Andy Gyurisin, who was familiar with the couple's love of the movie, messaged them to let them know they had more chances to see the film on the big screen. The Diniuses took full advantage of the opportunity, watching Jackman sing and dance on screen five more times over the two-day showing — raising their total screenings to 85 theatrical showings of "The Greatest Showman."
Just before their 85th and final screening, Gyurisin posted a picture of the couple on the Alamo Twitter feed. In a matter of minutes, Jackman himself tweeted in response: "Now that's some serious love for the movies! Enjoy - HJ"
The movie returned to the Alamo this past week — giving Dawn and Herb the opportunity to push their screening total to 100.
“We didn’t go into this, to set any goals,” Herb said Thursday night. “We love this movie. Tonight is my 100th. What am I looking forward to? 101.”
Herb said all of the songs are his favorite because “there are no bad songs in the movie” and choosing just one would be like being forced to pick a favorite child.
During their many, many viewings in theaters, Dawn has taken a notebook with her to jot down new details about the movie that she never noticed before — like the amount of times Michelle Williams’s character Charity Hallett-Barnum changes outfits during the “A Million Dreams" number.
"Even with as many times as we have seen it, every time we leave and we go home, we talk about the movie the whole way home,” Dawn said. “We still find things to talk about.”
The couple said reaching 100 screenings of the movie in the theaters was both exciting and bittersweet.
“I got kind of weepy on number 99 knowing that 100 was coming, and we don’t know when we are going to see it again,” Herb said.
Although they own the movie on home video, the Diniuses say it doesn’t compare to the immersive big-screen experience.
“Especially this year, we are thrilled to be able to escape for a little bit and go back to 'Showman' for a feel good," Dawn said.
Since reopening, the Alamo Drafthouse in Kernstown has been screening old classics and some new — mostly independent — films. Theater attendees are required to wear masks to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. Guests without masks will be provided one for free. Manager Tory Sims-Muir said that to keep social distancing standards, there is a two-seat buffer placed on each side of a guest or group of guests. This keeps each theater at less than half of its full capacity. Each auditorium — and specifically chairs and tables — is sanitized between screenings with an electrostatic fogger and disinfectant.
“We get a lot of people that are happy to be able to be back," Sims-Muir said. "They get that escape from their normal life. With everything that’s going on, it’s nice to be able to have that escape. Two hours out of your day where you don’t have to think about everything else that’s going on.”