Philly's Prince Music Theater Emerges From Chapter 11; Building Has New Owners

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15 Jan 2013

Prince Music Theater, the Philadelphia venue that seemed a new hope for American musicals when it opened its doors in 1999 —but has been largely dormant in recent years — emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy in fall 2012. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the three-venue complex now has new owners.



Investors making up 1412 Chestnut Street Corp. have bought the building on Chestnut Street, the paper reported. The Prince Music Theater will continue to present and produce yet-to-be-named attractions, and will pay rent in a 25-year lease to the owners.

Future productions and a creative plan have not been announced, but it's thought that the building may become a broader performing-arts venue, welcoming a range of work, including music acts. The company has been tangled in legal fights and struggled with debt in recent years.

Herb Lotman is now board chairman. Longtime founding producer Marjorie Samoff will reportedly continue as a consultant. She founded the organization as American Music Theater Festival in 1984, with Ronald L. Kaiserman and the composer Eric Salzman. The permanent venue opened in 1999.

In 2010 Prince Music Theater — a rare American regional theatre devoted to the production of musicals — started showing first-run films in order to help pay the bills. "During the bankruptcy we continued to be a home for non-profit opera and musical theatre — even a couple of premieres — but they were not our original productions," Samoff said. 

Founded in 1984 as the American Music Theater Festival, the company spent its first 15 years without a home of its own. During that time, AMTF performed in different venues throughout Philadelphia.

By the late 1990s, the city began to undertake the transformation of Broad Street into the Avenue of the Arts. Under the leadership of Samoff, the American Music Theater Festival set its eyes on building itself a new home. They found it in the historic former Midtown Theater. AMTF converted the run-down relic into a three-venue complex (a 446-seat theatre, a smaller black-box seating 80-150 and a multipurpose room).

In March 1999, under the new name Prince Music Theater, named in honor of legendary Broadway producer and director Harold Prince, who went to college in Philly, the company opened its new home. Prince told Playbill in 2010, "A number of years ago, I disassociated myself from the Prince Music Theater because it had not nurtured new musicals in the way that I had originally hoped when I agreed to lend my name." (The multiple Tony Award winner also pointed out that there is another Prince theatre, "which is flourishing," at the Annenberg Center on the University of Pennsylvania campus.)

The Inquirer reported that a new managing director will be named soon. At this time, the building/organization seems likely to be a small performing arts center rather than a producer of its own new musicals.

Productions from Prince Music Theater's past include Julie Taymor, Elliot Goldenthal and Sidney Goldfarb's The Transposed Heads; Duke Ellington's Queenie Pie; Bob Telson and Lee Breuer's Gospel at Colonus; David Henry Hwang, Philip Glass, and Jerome Sirlin's 1000 Airplanes on the Roof; Adam Guettel and Tina Landau's Floyd Collins; Harry Partch's Revelation in the Courthouse Park; and Harold Prince's production of the musical triptych 3hree.

Samoff told the Inquirer that the organization produced 176 productions, 127 of them world or U.S. premieres, from 1984 to 2008. She told Playbill.com in a Jan. 15 email, "In addition to Herb & Karen Lotman, I am grateful to a tiny dedicated staff and board and the many arts partners who stuck with us through thick and thin. Thanks to all of them, we were able to keep the Prince alive and open, offer more than 200 live performances and screenings, cover all our costs, and prevent the conversion of the Prince to retail and condos, as the bank intended."

Visit princemusictheater.org.