On Oct. 4, the state Superior Court refused to stop the sheriff's sale of the Prince on Chestnut Street. Marjorie Samoff, producing director of the not-for-profit theatre, has long been seeking options to prevent TD Bank from taking possession, and told the Philadelphia Inquirer she would continue to do so, but it would seem that this is the final curtain for the organization — at least at this location.
Playbill.com sought comment from Prince's Samoff on Oct. 5, but did not get an immediate response.
The Prince Music Theater reportedly owes TD Bank about $4.8 million. The bank and the Prince have been engaged in legal battles for two years.
The debt-saddled Prince Music Theater — a rare American regional theatre devoted to the production of musicals — was converted into a cinema over the summer in order to pay the bills.
The Philadelphia company's two-venue home opened in 1999 at Chestnut Street on the Avenue of the Arts as a place for the creation of new musicals and the revival of old shows, plus cabaret evenings, but fell on hard times recently. The bank that owns the mortgage has sought to put the facility up for auction for many months. The Prince was not able to meet its mortgage payments in recent years. The Summer Cinema Series was "part of the Prince's strategy to keep the theatre self-supporting, to fulfill its mission, and to serve a broad constituency from all segments of the community," according to an upbeat June statement from Prince Music Theater. "In addition to first-run features, the Prince will offer a rich mix of live musical performances interwoven with independent premieres, film festival favorites, documentaries, and special interactive events, both on the Alter Mainstage and in the Independence Foundation Black Box, Plans for live musical performances and additional film programming will be announced in the weeks ahead."
A similarly bright statement about future programming for the 2009-10 season was made in July 2009, and little appeared on the Prince stages during that time period.
The movie series was "one part of a three-year Prince Renaissance Plan aiming to rebuild and restore the Prince to full operations and return to full production, with a new business model and multiple revenue streams."
In 2008-09, only two Prince-produced productions were offered: the Kander & Ebb revue The World Goes 'Round and a radio-play version of "It's a Wonderful Life."
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 two-venue complex (a 446-seat theatre and a smaller black-box).
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.
Harold Prince clarified with this statement to Playbill.com on Oct. 5: "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 points out that there is another Prince theatre, "which is flourishing," at the Annenberg Center on the University of Pennsylvania campus.