This fall marks the re-opening of the Prince Music Theater, a premiere venue for high-quality stage productions, films, concerts and, of course, musical theater. Fresh carpets in the lobby bring the mural of collected pieces by artist Al Hirschfeld into delightfully brilliant focus, giving show attendees a sense of established glamour. From new concessions stands in the lobby for refreshments and program sales to new seating and sound curtains within the Gisela and Dennis Alter main stage, the freshened-up Prince shows dedication to presenting the innovative and particular art form for which the theater’s namesake was most famous.
“Our season was programmed by a diverse group, including volunteers who are prominent industry professionals, a partnership with AEG Live, the Prince’s Board, which has avid and knowledgeable cabaret lovers, and myself,” James Hines, Prince Music Theater’s executive director, tells PW. “We all came together to create this season.”
The Gisela and Dennis Alter main stage will be home to a distinctive array of live performances. Beginning with a recent three-day run of Chazz Palminteri’s one-man A Bronx Tale, the Prince brings fan favorites like Evil Dead: The Musical 4-D and Potted Potter to life this year, as well as more heavy hitting pieces like The Suit, after a successful run on London’s West End and the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York. Upstairs, the Independence Foundation Blackbox Theater becomes Morgan’s Cabaret, featuring such seasoned stage professionals as Barbara Cook, Patti LuPone, Steve Tyrell and Karen Akers. Proving that there is still an intense passion for live performances in this city, Morgan’s Cabaret’s new season sold out in a record four days.
In addition to renovated seating and sound curtains for staged performances, the main stage has received a major film technology upgrade. Now equipped with state-of-the-art 3D projectors and a renovated sound system, the Prince is completely prepared to host the upcoming Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival, as well as the grand finale of the Philadelphia Film Festival. Concerts on the schedule include a sold-out night with Kevin Smith & Ralph Garman and performances by Justin Wilman and the Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus, hosting the latter’s holiday season.
But what of its defunct Rainbow Company, the youth ensemble that once encouraged and inspired local students to flex their artistic muscles through playwriting, costume design and acting, right under the Prince’s bright lights? “The Rainbow Company and Youth Arts in Action have seen alumni go on to Broadway careers, and we very much want to continue that tradition,” says Hines. “Past staff have been in to offer their help in bringing these beloved programs back to life, as they were so important to the under-privileged youth of Philadelphia. We are currently looking into securing seed money and funding to bring these important, award-winning programs back to the Prince.”
Beginning in 1984 as the American Music Theater Festival, founders Marjorie Samoff, Eric Salzman and Ron Kaiserman brought the production to its current home, at 1412 Chestnut Street, in 1999. Previously known by two different names—the Karlton Theater and the Midtown Theater—the Prince, renamed by the trio to honor legendary Broadway director-producer Harold “Hal” Prince, has seen its fair share of history.
The world premiere of the 1954 historical film Beau Brummell, starring Stewart Granger and Elizabeth Taylor, was held at the Midtown Theater on Oct. 5, 1954. The Midtown also brought Philadelphia an extensive repertoire of epic movies, including Around the World in Eighty Days (1956), Oklahoma! (1956), South Pacific (1958), West Side Story (1961), Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and The Sound of Music (1965), some of them screening for months on end. But that’s not all: The world premiere of Rocky II was held at the Midtown on June 14, 1979. With this sort of notable history, it seems only fitting that the legacy should continue.
As for the Prince’s current offerings, the facts speak for themselves: A Bronx Tale opened and closed to a sold-out crowd, and audiences are presently being thrilled by Evil Dead and its “Splatter Zone,” a section of rows where onlookers can—and will—get liberally sprayed with show blood. With the Halloween season right around the corner, expect this to be a seasonal hit. And if its current momentum continues, this staple in Philadelphia theater has a vibrant, promising future ahead of it.
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