It was a recession-era wallop that left South Florida theater circles reeling: the 2011 shuttering of Manalapan’s Florida Stage, followed almost immediately by the closing of Boca Raton’s Caldwell Theatre Company.
And in one fell economic swoop, two of Palm Beach County’s theatrical powerhouses were down for the count.
But not for long.
Since then, an experienced producer breathed fresh life into one stage, a whole family of show business rookies took over the other and an artistic director who made his name showcasing new plays has found a new home.
Here's a look at some major changes in Palm Beach County’s theatrical landscape:
Louis Tyrrell Moves Into Arts Garage
By 2011, Florida Stage had spent 19 of its 24 years in the Plaza del Mar space in Manalapan. But the economic downturn, a steadily increasing overhead, an aging audience and major donors drained by Ponzi-schemer Bernard Madoff created what Louis Tyrrell, former artistic director of Florida Stage, calls “a perfect storm.”
And the iconic theater, which for years was dedicated to nurturing new works, closed for good.
But Tyrrell took his talent and his love of original plays to The Arts Garage, Delray Beach’s wildly successful arts incubator.
“It’s an exciting niche that’s needed in Palm Beach County,” says Tyrrell.
In addition to the regular season at Arts Garage, Tyrrell is staging a number of radio plays based on classic movies. They include the perennial holiday classic “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Casablanca” and “Sunset Boulevard.”
(Full disclosure: The radio play series launch of “A Star Is Born” in August featured two local radio voices South Florida listeners might be familiar with: WLRN’s Caroline Breder-Watts -- and this author.)
The Theater at Arts Garage -- Season Highlights:
“The Longing and the Short Of It” (November 1 – 24)
A song cycle in which six actors play a multitude of characters, all struggling to find love and acceptance.
“The Humming Bird Wars” (January 10 – February 2)
A new play about a soldier returning from his tour of duty, only to find yet another battleground on the homefront.
“Fighting Over Beverly” (February 28 – March 23)
A romantic comedy set in Gloucester, Massachusetts that centers on a love triangle between three 70+ year-olds.
“The Trouble With Doug” (April 18 – May 11)
A contemporary musical re-imagining of Kafka’s “Metamorphosis,” about a young man who wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into a giant talking slug.
Plaza Theatre Moves Into The Old Florida Stage
Alan Jacobson, producing director of the Plaza Theatre, says he’s not one to be daunted by lousy economic conditions. He started producing theater in New York during the 1991 recession, in a tiny space upstairs from a Kosher pizza and falafel restaurant.
“There’s always someone who does well in bad times,” says Jacobson. “You have to have the right product or idea. You have to have the commitment, the perseverance. And you have to be much more careful managing the financial end of the business.”
Theater is a business Jacobson knows well; he’s been successfully producing musicals and cabaret acts at various venues throughout South Florida for the last decade. He had no intention of starting his own company until late 2011, when he got a chance to oversee a promotional event in Plaza del Mar, the former home of Florida Stage.
“I looked at it. All the seating was intact. And I just said, ‘What the heck! I’m gonna go for it,’" Jacobson says.
After he spent a frenzied two months renovating the old space, the Plaza Theatre opened its doors in early 2012. It now embarks on its second full season, presenting comedies, musicals, cabaret acts and what it describes as “lighter dramas.”
The Plaza Theatre – Season Highlights
"Brighton Beach Memoirs" (October 10-27)
"Fingers & Toes – A Tap Comedy Musical" (November 7-24)
"I Love You You’re Perfect Now Change!" (December 5 –December 22)
"My Life On A Diet," starring Renee Taylor (January 16 – February 9)
"Rags – The Musical" (February 20 – March 16)
"Dirty Blonde" (March 27 – April 13)
Wick Theatre Opens In Old Caldwell Space
“I can’t believe it’s empty.” That’s what Kimberly Wick thought every time she drove past the shuttered Countess de Hoernle Theater in Boca Raton. The building was the former home of the Caldwell Theatre Company, which folded under a crushing debt last year.
Many in South Florida's theater community were taken by surprise when Costume World owners Marilynn Wick and her daughters, Kimberly and Kelly, bought and renovated the old theater and rechristened it The Wick Theatre. It seemed like a major gamble for a family who admit they have no prior experience running a theater.
But most skeptics were silenced after The Wick's debut production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The Sound Of Music,” which opened to glowing reviews. The theater will also serve double-duty as a costume museum.
Kimberly Wick acknowledges that the new company features an altogether different theatrical bill of fare than its predecessor.
“The Caldwell Theatre Company is a group of people that we respect immensely,” she says. “But their choices were different than our choices. And we do want to include, someday, a dramatic series. But our focus and our heart will always be in American musical theater.”
The Wick Theatre – Season Highlights
“White Christmas” (November 7 - December 22)
“42nd Street” (January 9 - February 9)
“The Full Monty” (February 20 - March 23)
“Steel Magnolias” (April 3 – May 4)
“Ain’t Misbehavin’ ” (May 15-June 15)