Toronto theater gets its 'Groove' on

TORONTO — A downtown Toronto theater that’s been dark since the Second City abandoned it last April is coming to life again thanks to a boy band.

The property at 56 Blue Jays Way will open its doors again April 21 with the first preview of “BoyGroove.” A tuner that takes a satirical look at groups like the Backstreet Boys and ‘NSync, the show might be considered the secular Canadian answer to Off Broadway hit “Altar Boyz.”

The musical spoof by Chris Craddock and Aaron Macri premiered in Edmonton, Alberta, in May 2003. It toured and received a wildly positive response at various Canadian fringe fests over the next few years; it even played Houston’s Theater Lab in June 2004.

But it was a smash sellout engagement at the Toronto Fringe Festival last summer that led to this open-ended commercial run.

Local impresario Michael Rubinoff, in association with another independent Toronto producer, Derrick Chua, took an immediate interest in the show but didn’t have the right venue in which to present it.

This city has more than its share of 1,000-seat-plus auditoriums and 200-seat studios, but midrange houses of 400-600 are scarce.

The Blue Jays Way address opened in 1997 as part of a major expansionist move by the Second City comedy troupe. After more than 30 successful years at its old home, the company’s CEO, Andrew Alexander, decided to move to Toronto’s entertainment district.

Alexander opened the multimillion-dollar facility featuring three performance areas — the main 400-seat space, the 100-seat Tim Sims Playhouse and a third flexible area that became home to the Toronto production of “Tony ‘n’ Tina’s Wedding” — as well as a restaurant and a bar.

But from the start, there was a gap between revenue and expenses that never really narrowed. In December 2004, Alexander filed for bankruptcy protection.

He left the building last April and reopened virtually across the street (at 99 Blue Jays Way); he reports, “We’re back on track again and our audiences have improved considerably.”

The original Blue Jays Way property was marked for demolition and redevelopment as condominiums, until an anonymous developer decided to buy and save the theater.

That intervention coincided with producer Jeffrey Latimer, looking for a new theater. Latimer had taken over the New Yorker Theater (now called the Panasonic Theater) and continued to operate with other properties.

The seeming upswing in Toronto’s fortunes made Latimer want to become a player again, and so he attached himself to 56 Blue Jays Way, announcing his involvement March 13.

He plans to refurbish the main space, adding new chairs and tables and reducing the size of the proscenium. He also intends to reopen the Tim Sims Playhouse and continue the tradition of using it as a forum for developing talent.

There are even early discussions about bringing another interactive show into the space once occupied by “Tony ‘n’ Tina’s Wedding,” but the restaurant will remain closed.

“There’s no name for the facility yet,” says Latimer. “We’re currently calling it the Theater on Blue Jays Way. We are courting people right now regarding naming rights. The interest is mainly from alcohol companies, because the space has potentially three great cabaret bar spaces.”

As for the theater’s first tenant, “BoyGroove” begins by asking the audience, “Do you like singing? Do you like dancing? Do you like cute boys?”

That should take care of everybody who isn’t down the street at “The Lord of the Rings.”

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