, Salem, MA


August 28, 2013

'Cats' makes sleek business sense

Blockbuster musical puts spotlight on local theater's revival

BEVERLY — North Shore Music Theatre’s staging of the worldwide smash “Cats” would seem to make good business sense for a theater that itself has nine lives.

Now in its fourth season under owner Bill Hanney, the theater-in-the-round has come roaring back after closing in June 2009 due to financial problems.

So far, Hanney’s fourth season has been hotter than a cat on a hot tin roof.

”This year has been good to us,” said Hanney, who bought the foreclosed theater for $3.6 million in 2010, poured $300,000 into refurbishing it and set about wooing back alienated subscribers who had prepaid for a 2009 season that never happened.

”It’s our fourth season, and I think finally the people have decided to trust the theater, to come back. Our subscription numbers are way up over last year. They have grown every year, but this is the year it just bounced.

”They always say three years in business and you are there — or not — but this is our year. We have picked five very big titles, and it’s helped.”

It also helped that the season’s first show, “The Sound of Music,” got rave reviews, Hanney said.

”When that happens, they can’t wait to get a ticket for the next show,” he said.

The other shows in this year’s lineup are “The Wizard of Oz” (presented in July), and “La Cage Aux Folles” and “Miss Saigon,” coming this fall.

Hanney won’t know until the curtain comes down on “Cats” how well it did, “but it’s doing well now. It can only get better, and it will get better.”

“Cats” was chosen a year ago, and it was a business decision.

“The first concern we have about revenue is picking the right titles, to have people be intrigued,” said the theater’s artistic director, Arianna Knapp. “Cats” was “definitely a draw for people,” even starting last season when the show was announced. It’s one of the most successful shows in Broadway history, closing in 2000 after an 18-year-run. Only “The Phantom of the Opera” has run longer.

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