The bank holding the mortgage on the playhouse took possession from owner and operator Ralph Miller, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. A foreclosure auction in December did not attract bidders.
Broadway producer Jed Bernstein (Driving Miss Daisy) and Broadway colleagues will lend expertise to a new nonprofit called the Bucks County Playhouse Conservancy, under the auspices of the local Heritage Conservancy, which will buy and renovate the 450-seat playhouse. The funding source has not been revealed. The building has been on a busy street near the banks of the Delaware River since 1790, when it was a grist mill.
A 2011 season is being planned, and there is a goal to make the venue a "destination theatre," as it had been in its heyday after opening in 1939. Broadway stars regularly appeared at the Playhouse, and pre-Broadway tryouts of Harvey and Barefoot in the Park were staged there.
Professional theatre under an arrangement with Actors' Equity is the goal. In recent years, non-union shows were staged, giving the playhouse the sheen of an earnest community theatre.
Doylestown resident Peggy McRae is the major local force behind rehabilitating the Playhouse. She founded the Bucks County Playhouse Preservation Society and will help run new playhouse conservancy. Brian "Rick" Appel, a local lawyer is the new nonprofit's acting president.
According to the organizers, the Playhouse Conservancy would purchase the property from Stonebridge Bank, the entity that currently holds the Playhouse's title, and maintain and operate the venue. The venue would also be available for community events and rentals.
"The entire theatre community was aghast at the idea of permanently losing this legendary venue and picturesque piece of theatre history," Bernstein said in a statement. "We have formulated a unique solution that we hope will ensure this landmark's artistic and financial future for New Hope and Bucks County. Without missing a beat, we are committed to moving swiftly to try and solidify a plan to mount a 2011 summer season that will unequivocally demonstrate that the Bucks County Playhouse has truly been born anew."
"The New Hope Borough Council supports all efforts to continue the rich tradition of the Bucks County Playhouse, which is an essential part of the fabric of the New Hope community," Sharyn Keiser, New Hope borough council president, said.
"We recognize the playhouse as a cultural icon of the community," Clifford C. David Jr., Heritage Conservancy president, said. "Our hope is to preserve the building and continue the important cultural contribution it makes."
"I am thrilled to see our community, once again, rally around the Playhouse to assure its future," McRae said. "The passion and determination not to lose this treasure stands as a testament to its singular position in the Bucks County artistic landscape. I urge anyone who shares our enthusiasm to reach out to us at the Conservancy and join our efforts."
Those wishing to donate their time, and/or financial support, can contact the Conservancy at (267) 287-8486 or online at www.buckscountyplayhouseconservancy.org.