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Lights out at Pasadena Playhouse

Theater shutters Feb. 7, considers bankruptcy

The Pasadena Playhouse will cease operations Feb. 7, after the final perf of its current show, a pared-down revival of “Camelot.”

Leaders are seeking legal counsel about potential options to move the org forward — including a declaration of bankruptcy, one of the possibilities on the table.

Playhouse, which is the state theater of California, is more than $2 million in debt, with about $500,000 of that immediately due. A total of 37 people will be laid off, according to exec director Stephen Eich.

The debt, some of which the theater has carried for years, came coupled with long-standing inconsistencies in balancing revenue and spending. In recent months, fund-raising has been tougher thanks to the financial downturn.

“It’s been kind of a perfect storm of the debt and the operational imbalances and the economy,” said Eich, who joined the playhouse about seven months ago.

Decision to shutter was made after attempts to seek out a major donor — for whom the mainstage would be renamed in the wake of a multimillion-dollar gift — failed.

The playhouse has about 7,000 subscribers who have paid for tickets to an entire season’s worth of offerings, including two more plays that had been skedded for the spring. (“Havana,” the new tuner from Frank Wildhorn and Nilo Cruz, was initially skedded to preem there in June but the show’s commercial producers have since parted ways with the theater due to the company’s troubles.)

All upcoming stage offerings remain in limbo for the moment. Eich, who leads the theater with longtime artistic director Sheldon Epps, said he hoped the org would eventually meet its obligations to its subscribers, but he didn’t yet know how it would happen.

“We have to take a step back and find a way to do this responsibly,” he said.

Playhouse was established in 1917 and rose to prominence in the 1920s thanks in part to a well-known actor training program. An earlier round of money woes pushed the org into dormancy in the 1970s; the theater was relaunched in 1986.

With an annual operating budget of around $8 million, the theater lists “Sister Act the Musical” (currently playing on the West End) and the play “Looped,” coming to Broadway in the spring, among its offerings of the last few years.

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