Saturday, January 30, 2010

"90-year-old landmark theater to close" ??? . . . . Oh! I hope not!

The Pasadena Playhouse will close Feb. 7 after the final performance of its current show, "Camelot," as leaders of the 90-year-old landmark theater search for ways out of serious financial difficulties.

Among the options they are considering is a bankruptcy filing.

Executive director Stephen Eich said the playhouse is essentially out of cash and faces more than $500,000 in immediate bills, as well as payments on more than $1.5 million in bank loans and other debts that have dogged the nonprofit company since the mid-1990s. Thirty-seven employees learned at a staff meeting Thursday that they would be out of work.

Eich said that tapping into $6 million donated for a capital campaign to refurbish the playhouse was not an option. "It just would not be any way for us to solve the problems of the place," he said.

Eich said that he, longtime artistic director Sheldon Epps and the playhouse's board will instead try to develop a plan to set the company on its feet, rather than keep it going on the hand-to-mouth basis that became impossible in a down economy that took a toll on donations.

Founded in 1917, the playhouse was designated in 1937 as the state theater of California. Actors such as Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman have been associated with it through the years, and the current company has launched productions that went on to runs elsewhere: The musical adaptation of the hit film "Sister Act" is currently playing in London, and "Looped," a one-woman show about Tallulah Bankhead starring Valerie Harper that was seen at the playhouse in 2008, is to open on Broadway this spring.

"What a loss it would be if the theater is not able to come back," said Leslie Uggams, who opened as Lena Horne there a year ago in "Stormy Weather," a musical biography of the jazz great that was the playhouse's last box office hit. "It's gorgeous, it's historical. I just loved the theater, the people who worked there, and the audiences who came seemed so loyal. What a shame that would be."

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