Venture turns vintage moviehouses into theaters

A vintage movie theater in Bethesda, Md., will become the East Coast beachhead for Nederlander Worldwide Entertainment’s proposed circuit of small regional properties specializing in Off Broadway musicals and light commercial fare. The concept bows Oct. 4 with a 16-week run of the tuner “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.”

The venture began several years ago when the Bethesda Theater, an Art Deco house owned by the nonprofit Bethesda Cultural Alliance, inked a long-term lease with the offshoot of the Nederlander org. The 70-year-old facility recently underwent a $10 million facelift, and is ready to greet auds in configurations that range between 580 and 700 seats.

Robert Nederlander Jr., prexy of Nederlander Worldwide, said he is excited about the circuit’s format, which he feels is underserved and filled with box office potential. Other initial properties include the Post Street and Marines Memorial Theaters in San Francisco, and the Proscenium Theater in Sarasota, Fla. He said he is aggressively looking to expand the circuit.

The first season will also include Steve Solomon’s comic monologue “My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish and I’m in Therapy,” and “Smokey Joe’s Cafe.” “I Love You” is being produced specifically for the Bethesda space, while “Smokey Joe’s” will tour, Nederlander said.

Executive director Ray Cullom is tasked with filling the Bethesda’s seats in the D.C. area’s torrid theater market.

Built in 1938, the Bethesda operated as a 1,000-seat film theater until 1983, when it was converted into a restaurant/movie house catering to second runs. It is now part of a high-end apartment complex developed by the Bozzuto Development Co. and donated to the nonprofit alliance.

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