Vaudeville is Not Dead... It's Just Under New Ownership

News   Vaudeville is Not Dead... It's Just Under New Ownership Max Weitzenhoffer, a co-producer of such Broadway hits as The Will Rogers Follies and Dracula, as well as such West End shows as Defending the Caveman and the current Fiona Shaw Medea, has added a new line to his resume: theatre owner.

Max Weitzenhoffer, a co-producer of such Broadway hits as The Will Rogers Follies and Dracula, as well as such West End shows as Defending the Caveman and the current Fiona Shaw Medea, has added a new line to his resume: theatre owner.

On Feb. 2, he took over the Vaudeville Theatre, current home of Richard Nelson's Off-Broadway-bound hit, Madame Melville. Previous owners Vaudeville Enterprises, Ltd., are still managing the venue, according to a spokesperson at the Keith Sherman press office (Feb. 9), and "all staff and services will remain intact."

Regarding the purchase, Weitzenhoffer said in a statement, "I've worked in the theatre all my life and always dreamed I would own my own. I feel fortunate to be associated with such a beautiful and prestigious venue."

Asked why he chose to purchase a theatre in the U.K. rather than in the U.S., Weitzenhoeffer told Playbill On-Line (Feb. 15), "I've been producing in London for the last six or seven years, and it makes more sense economically. As a producer, I came out of the era of the independents, which doesn't exist anymore in New York. The production costs are beyond the pale. Also, there generally aren't theatres for sale in New York, and if they were they'd be so prohibitive."

As for why he picked the Vaudeville, Weitzenhoffer said it was a combination of timing, venue and availability. Two years ago, he was in the running to buy the Stoll Moss theatre chain, but Andrew Lloyd Webber won out (bidding roughly $145 million USD). "I didn't go against the Ambassador Group either. Then the Vaudeville came up, and I've always liked this theatre. I have a production company [Weitzenhoeffer Productions] that needed a home, so this offers me a lot of opportunities." Devoted to new projects and directors, Weitzenhoeffer Productions is currently producing Alistair Beaton's Feelgood on its move to the West End in April, as well as the transfer of Medea from Ireland's Abbey Theatre to the Queens Theatre.

Selling points of the Vaudeville included its location on the Strand and that it was already in move-in condition. "They'd just gotten new seats under the past ownership, and new carpets," Weitzenhoeffer told PBOL. "It's been an ongoing improvement cycle. We'll probably get a new marquee, and eventually I'd like to bring the theatre up to a level — maybe not on quite so grand a scale — but to where, say, Broadway's Walter Kerr Theatre is. Unlike most Western theatres, all the dressing rooms have their own showers and windows. The performers have a really nice place to work."

Constructed in 1870, the Vaudeville was the first West End theatre to be built pre-wired for electricity. A 700-seat proscenium, the house is ideal for "small dramas and comedies," Weitzenhoffer said. "It had a very long history of small musicals, but you can't do a musical now, even on the West End, because the budgets are prohibitive." Weitzenhoeffer expresses serious interest in importing shows from Broadway and Off-Broadway to the Vaudeville as well.

After Madame Melville leaves the Vaudeville for New York, the 700 seat West End venue will house Hugh Whitemore's God Only Knows, starring Derek Jacobi.

— By David Lefkowitz