Mitchell Maxwell, the Broadway and Off-Broadway producer of such shows as Dinner With Friends, Damn Yankees, Summer of '42 and Bells Are Ringing, plans to take over the dormant Denver Civic Theatre and make it an Equity house for Off-Broadway style fare.
Joe Ignat, president of the Denver Civic's board, told Playbill On-Line that Maxwell's Sibling Entertainment, Inc., and the board are entering into an agreement whereby Sibling would take on the theatre's existing debt and have complete control of the venue's operations this winter toward a spring re-opening. The current board of the not-for-profit non-Equity theatre would resign and Maxwell would form a new board and a new plan to stage professional Equity shows at the two-venue house.
Ignat said plans also call for allowing community groups access to the small 100-seat black box space, while Sibling would program work in the larger 289-seat house. There is also talk of possible retail opportunities for the 1921 building — perhaps a coffee house, gallery or restaurant, Ignat said.
Maxwell was out of town and could not be reached by Playbill On-Line the week of Nov. 11.
The 1921 building was one of Denver's first silent movie houses and over the years has had multiple uses. In the mid-1980s Denver arts booster Henry Lowenstein created a plan to turn the theatre into a performance space, and by the 1990s the doors had opened. For a variety of reasons, though, Denver Civic Theatre struggled financially. Ignat said it was "more or less moribund" when he and his wife and other Denver people took it over in 1999 and tried to "resuscitate the place." A "couple of positive seasons" didn't lead to a lasting future, though.
The current debt involves the mortgage, money owed to key employees for back salary and loans from board members, Ignat said, choosing to not name a figure but saying it was "much less" than $1 million.
By late 2002, Maxwell's Sibling Entertainment is expected to take control and renovations will follow, Ignat said. The Denver Post reported May 1, 2003, as a launch date for the new theatre, adding that corporate naming opportunities would be one way for Sibling to help pay for the project.
Ignat said Maxwell's group will be made up of Denver people. The Denver Post reported Richard Bernstein as a partner in the project.
The theatre is located on Sante Fe Drive, south of downtown, in a "transitional" neighborhood that is starting to be dotted with art galleries, Ignat said. "It's becoming part of Denver's nightlife," Ignat said.
The Denver theatre market already has a smart and active theatregoing community that will be interested in the newly-revived venue. The not-for-profit, Tony Award honored Denver Center Theatre Company is the major resident company in town, housed within the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, which itself has two touring houses and a cabaret theatre within it. A dinner theatre and an Off-Off-Broadway theatre are the only other Equity operations in town.
The new Denver Civic Theatre is likely to fill a niche in the Mile High City of providing fresh Off-Broadway fare and perhaps tryouts for new plays and musicals. Producers who wish to try out new works in the relative quiet of Denver, thousands of miles from New York City, are likely to envy Maxwell's new nest near the Rockies.
In an interview with Playbill On-Line, Maxwell has lamented in the past about how Broadway is intent in "event" shows and how there seems to be dwindling respect for intimate, human shows that don't need to be special-effects-driven mega-hits. In Denver, he'll have a place where Dinner With Friends, for example, might conceivably have a long sitdown, or where Summer of '42, the musical, might have a welcome Colorado premiere. (The former has already played in a DCTC staging.)
"I think it's a great thing for Denver," said outgoing board president Ignat. "It's very difficult to run a small theatre like this. This time, we have people who are experienced and knowledgeable in the business."
— By Kenneth Jones