SFX drives into New England

SPAC's Werth steps down in wake of Shubert deal

SOUTHBURY, Conn. — SFX, which is already a dominant player in the region, is making more inroads into New England legit.

On April 25, the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford, Conn., announced that David R. Fay will take over as exec director. Fay is currently president of the Canadian producing division of SFX Theatrical Group and executive director of the Pantages Theater in Toronto. He will bring with him strong ties to the producing and presenting org, which is now owned by Clear Channel Communications.

In Boston, plans are moving forward for the $30 million renovation of the Opera House under the auspices of SFX Theater Management Group. The company already books the city’s Colonial and Wilbur theaters.

The company recently got city approval for petitions it was seeking involving the renovation of the Opera House. SFX can now file for building permits so that work can begin on the Opera House, which opened in 1928 as the B.F. Keith Memorial Theater. The plan is to reopen the house in a couple of years, according to SFX Theater Management Group president David Anderson.

Future uncertain

Meanwhile, the fate of New Haven’s historic Shubert Theater continues to be unclear as the staff of the nonprofit Shubert Performing Arts Center, which has leased and run the city-owned theater since it was renovated and reopened in 1983, begins exiting.

SPAC president and CEO Caroline Werth stepped down on April 17 “in light of the city’s decision to privatize the Shubert Theater rather than renew the current management’s lease,” though she will continue to serve as a consultant through the current season.

It is scheduled to end with the opening of the first national touring company of the current Broadway revival of “Kiss Me, Kate” starring Rex Smith and Rachel York, June 19 to July 1.

The SPAC board has announced the impending layoff of the remaining SPAC staff by the end of this, its final season.

Werth had begun plans for next season at the Shubert, which was expected to include the pre-Broadway tryout of Neil Simon’s new play “45 Seconds From Broadway.” That booking and other may now be in jeopardy.

Trouble at the 1,600-seat Shubert became public in mid-March when New Haven mayor John DeStefano Jr. announced that he and city economic development officials had “taken steps to ensure the historic theater’s continuous operation” in light of a $300,000 debt from last year and a projected $750,000 deficit this year.

Those steps included the initiation of “informal discussions with several premier theater operators around the country.” SFX Theatrical Group was one of them.

This gave rise to rumors that SFX, which already owns and runs Wallingford, Conn.’s 4,800-seat Oakdale Theater and Hartford’s vast indoor-outdoor Meadows Music Theater, might take over the Shubert.

If — along with its links to the Bushnell via Fay followed by its eventual ownership of Boston’s Opera House — SFX were to take over the booking of the Shubert, it would have something of a lock on touring Broadway product in New England.

Although SFX spokesmen say there are no discussions currently under way regarding the Shubert, Henry Fernandez, New Haven’s economic development administrator, says SFX is indeed interested in the Shubert. Fernandez says it is one of around 15 organizations that attended a recent bidders conference for the Shubert.

Werth blames SFX, “with its deep pockets and control of the product” for having “aggressively” taken shows and audiences away from the nonprofit SPAC via its commercial Oakdale Theater, pointing out that SFX invests in many Broadway shows, thereby procuring the rights to present them in its own theaters. SFX is one of the producers of Broadway’s new megahit musical “The Producers” and will be in charge of its touring productions.