By Bill Hirschman
Broward-based Costume World plans to open a producing theater company along with its museum at the former Caldwell Theatre building in Boca Raton around September, CEO and President Marilynn Wick confirmed Thursday.
Costume World, reportedly the largest theatrical costume distributor in the country, signed an agreement late Thursday with mortgage holder Legacy Bank of Florida to lease the property with an option to buy it, Wick added Friday. The firm plans to invest between $300,000 to $1 million in extensive renovations over the next seven months
“We’re buying it,” she said, although she balked at discussing the specific financial arrangements.
“To me it’s no risk at all,” Wick said. “I realize the economy is not great, but people do want to be entertained and there’s a huge resurgence in the country for a revival for the past.”
The plan for the renamed Wick Theatre is to mount a six-show season of classic Broadway musicals with some straight plays, staffed with both Equity and non-Equity performers. She guestimated the annual operating budget for the theater at roughly $1 million, although the figures still are being developed. The operation will start out as a for-profit company while Costume World invests start up cash, but the plan is to seek non-profit status, Wick said.
In a synergy that Wick feels is crucial to fiscal success, she will move her popular Broadway Collection Museum of authentic costumes from Broadway shows to the site, with an opening in October. The desire for a stylish venue to display her holdings helped prompt more than six months of negotiations, she said.
The nearly 30,000-square foot cream-colored jewel box at 7901 N. Federal Highway has been shuttered since April 2 when the court-ordered receiver evicted the 37-year-old company. It had fallen victim to a long list of problems that included a shrinking base of subscribers and debts whose total even now has not been revealed.
Wick has acknowledged that neither she nor her staff has much experience producing shows or managing a theater. To fill that void, she has hired managing and producing director Douglas C. Evans, who has produced or presented more than 100 musicals, plays and tours through his 27-year career.
Evans is president of the Society for the Preservation of the Great American Songbook, and recently served as general manager and founding president of Classical South Florida in the Palm Beaches and west Florida. Evans is the former CEO of Nederlander Worldwide Entertainment and president of its Broadway China Ventures.
“We want the Wick Theatre to be a destination,” Evans said. “We feel very bullish…. Marilynn is a really successful entrepreneur and I have been in my career. With her daughters (who help run her company), we can make this work.”
Costume World has been interested in expanding into production for quite a while. It negotiated for several months in 2011 to buy Broward Stage Door Theatre in Coral Springs which had fallen deeply in debt. But that deal fell apart early in 2012 when the two parties argued about the size of the debt that Wick would be taking on. Stage Door has since become more financially stable thanks to several successful shows.
Since its founding in 1976, Costume World has grown steadily as a national player in the theater world. It solidified its clout when it acquired Dodger Costumes in 2005, giving it an inventory of 1.2 million pieces including the original costumes from 35 Broadway shows. Its two locations in Broward County, on-line operation, plus stores in Austin, Pittsburgh and Dallas service 100 shows a month, not to mention special events and Halloween parties.
But Wick is as proud of the museum at its Pompano Beach location, overseen by her daughter Kimberly, which gives tours, often with lunch, to bus groups and other visitors wanting to see such memorabilia as original gowns designed by Cecil Beaton for Julie Andrews in My Fair Lady.
Although the court receiver worked at maintaining the closed building, court records indicated the receiver’s concerns about roof leaks. Wick and Evans plan massive renovations including ensuring that the structure is properly outfitted with sound and lighting equipment. While the Caldwell presented musicals, some patrons complained that it was not sonically adequate for musicals. The interior will likely get new wallpaper and carpeting, even getting a cabaret space.
About 12,000 square feet will be devoted to the museum. Patrons can take in the museum tour while attending the theater, but visitors will be able to enjoy either separately. One advantage of the space is that it enables the company to entertain much larger groups at the museum.
A disadvantage is that while the theater has adequate wing space, it has no place to fly scenery above the stage. “It will take some creative thinking,” Evans said, citing the solutions used by the Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut which stages lavish musicals with virtually no wing or fly space.
One concern to observers had been parking. The Caldwell had built a parking lot west of the building, but new condos further west seemed to have taken it over. In fact, Evans said, the lot will be available to theater patrons,
Other than being rented by Entr’acte Theatrix’s run of Jesus Christ Superstar in July, the building has stood empty since the late afternoon of the Carbonell Awards a year ago when the Caldwell staff was asked to leave and then locked out.
Last year, Legacy Bank foreclosed on two mortgages totaling $5.89 million plus another $1.3 million in interest and late charges. It regained full title on the property at a court-ordered auction for $1,000,100 in October.
Wick wrote in a statement, “As a South Florida resident for more than 40 years, I was saddened to see the Caldwell close. Having this wonderful theater dark robs our community of an asset that we need for the cultural community. I have driven by the closed building for months now and felt that I needed to do something.
The Caldwell saga began in December 1975 when Hall and Bennett, a scenic designer, created the company at the urging of Rubbermaid Corp. founder James R. Caldwell.
It opened its first show, Neil Simon’s The Star Spangled Girl in a small auditorium on what is now the campus of Lynn University. Four years later it moved to the Boca Raton Mall. In 1989, it renovated and moved into its best known space in the Levitz Shopping Plaza just south of its last location.
Despite the cramped space, Hall gave his audience frothy farces, contemporary dramas, chamber musicals, large cast classics and gay-themed plays during the summer off-season.
Some of its most acclaimed works were chancier ventures than the mainstream fare prevalent in the region: Bent, Papa, The Laramie Project, Take Me Out, The Elephant Man and Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde.