Will Goodspeed Musicals Uproot Itself Out of East Haddam?

News   Will Goodspeed Musicals Uproot Itself Out of East Haddam?
The powers that be at Goodspeed Musicals are considering an offer to relocate its mainstage operation to Middletown, Connecticut, leaving the historic Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam to play host to an annual summer-season show.

The not-for-profit theatre devoted to old and new musicals has been in talks with East Haddam for several years about building a new $45 million operation across the street from the famed opera house and the process has been slow. Indeed, the troupe can't begin its capital campaign until city approvals are in place, and can't concretely announce an opening for the new project until the permits, studies and plans are worked out.

On Nov. 22, the Goodspeed board of trustees got a juicy offer from Middletown, 17 miles up the Connecticut River: A downtown location ready for construction, a "$5 million commitment through lease-back financing to support the project," "land acquisition, zoning and permitting in an expeditious manner," availability of "abundant parking spaces adjacent to the site."

Two possible locations — one in downtown Middletown and one on the lip of the Connecticut River — are actually part of the offer, a Goodspeed spokesman confirmed.

Is announcing the Middletown offer an effort by Goodspeed to prod East Haddam officials into moving faster on issues such as engineering, zoning, traffic analysis and the like?

"Absolutely not," said Dan McMahon, director of marketing for Goodspeed Musicals. "The process in East Haddam is a lengthy one. There are a lot of issues that take time. We're exploring this Middletown option because it came to us. We were able to explore it because we had the time to do it. This is a consideration phase." Brad Parker, first selectman in East Haddam, told the Hartford Courant that he would help expedite the permit process for the East Haddam proposal, but said East Haddam "won't get in a bidding war" for the project. The loss to Middletown, he told the paper, would be "devastating" for East Haddam.

"The City of Middletown has approached Goodspeed with a scenario that would address some of the resource needs for our expansion project as well as provide the advantages of a small city with an academic environment," said DeRoy Thomas, president of the Goodspeed Opera House board of trustees, in a statement. "We view the Middletown opportunity very favorably for the future of Goodspeed Musicals."

"The Goodspeed is a national treasure which will enrich our community, both culturally and economically. Its presence in the heart of our downtown will have a positive impact on our tax base, which benefits all the citizens of the community," said Middletown Mayor Dominique Thornton, in a statement. "Generations of Middletown residents, young and old, will be enriched by having this nationally acclaimed theatre in our midst. We welcome the opportunity to work with the Goodspeed in developing a long term partnership."

Although discussion with Middletown began several weeks ago, a formal proposal wasn't made to the board until Nov. 22. The Goodspeed board of trustees "agreed by consensus to direct its executive committee, along with the Goodspeed staff, to fully analyze and evaluate the proposal's merits and feasibility."

A report to the board of trustees and a decision about the location of the new theatre are expected in early 2004.

"We are committed to maintaining a presence at the Opera House in East Haddam, " Michael P. Price, executive director of Goodspeed Musicals, said in a statement. "The Opera House has been our home for 40 years and we will continue to produce shows here."

An exact timetable for Goodspeed to research the Middletown opportunity has not been established yet, the theatre announced.

The $45 million price tag for the project covers design, construction, the theatre's endowment and more, McMahon said. The state of Connecticut has committed $7 million to the project, $2 million of which has already gone into feasibility studies, architect fees and purchase of land across the street from the Goodspeed Opera House.

The new space would be the third working facility for Goodspeed: It also stages new works (not open to critics) at the Norma Terris Theatre in Chester, CT.

The reason Goodspeed wants to build a modern facility is to allow its shows to move on more easily to future lives (such as Broadway or tours) beyond Goodspeed's current, intimate, Victorian venue. The new stage and 800-seat auditorium would mirror the size and production demands of Broadway-style houses. The current opera house seats 400.

Since reopening the historic opera house in 1963, Goodspeed committed "to the preservation and development of musical theatre in America," has produced more than 183 musicals, 16 of which moved to Broadway and 43 that were world-premiere productions.

Goodspeed has been under the direction of Michael P. Price since 1968.

Annie, Shenandoah and Man of La Mancha all had formative production at Goodspeed.

In addition to its onstage productions, Goodspeed also maintains The Scherer Library of Musical Theatre.

For more information, visit www.goodspeed.org.

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