Never accuse the Maltz Jupiter Theatre of thinking small.
During the past year, when most resident stage companies were idled by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Maltz was busy demolishing its theater chamber and rebuilding an improved, larger complex to the tune of $36 million. The new theater could eventually house pre-Broadway tryouts, and in a later phase an expanded education conservatory, a second stage devoted to new works and classic dramas, and an in-house restaurant.
Earlier today, producing artistic director Andrew Kato announced that the Maltz Jupiter season would begin in January, but at an alternative venue. The season opener will be Jersey Boys, the Tony Award-winning biography of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons (Jan. 11-30). Gaining the production rights to the popular show is coup enough, but the more startling news is that the show will be produced at Jupiter’s Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium.
“As you can imagine with an announcement like we’re making right now, it’s not weeks in the planning, but months,” says Kato. “When you do something like going to Roger Dean Stadium, that means many meetings, going to the county for permission, talking about how we’re going about selling it, and then dealing with the unions as well, because they have their own requirements.”
A year earlier, Kato had approached the stadium about producing a show there during the pandemic. “I actually pitched them the idea of doing a production of ‘Damn Yankees’ in the stadium,” says Kato. “But it was just too complicated with the restrictions due to COVID – social distancing and everything – and too expensive. We may still do that someday.”
For Jersey Boys, a stage will be constructed at home plate, with 1,600 seats made available “fanned out, in the center part of the stands. No, we’re not expecting to get 1,600 people a night, but you never know,” says Kato. “We could draw the people who don’t typically go to the theater. That’s what we’re hoping.”
Among the challenges of producing a musical at Roger Dean are sound and rain. Kato is not worried about either one.
“We did some sound tests in the stadium. I think everyone has this preconceived idea from when we were kids that when you go to a baseball stadium there’s this echo, but the sound system they use at Roger Dean Stadium is very clear. We’re just in the planning stages now. If needed, there will be additional sound infrastructure. We’ll do our best to make it a great experience.”
And as to the weather, Kato reports “We’ve done some interesting research on it. It’s the least rainy month here and it’s the coolest, and the sun goes down early.”
Next up in the Maltz season is the previously announced Paul Rudnick comedy I Hate Hamlet, about a television actor haunted by the ghost of John Barrymore. It will play Feb. 8- 20 at The Benjamin School, which has an 800-seat theater.
Long a favorite of Kato’s, he says of I Hate Hamlet “Our audiences love comedies, but I’d bet that 99.5% of our audience has never seen ‘I Hate Hamlet.’ I think it’s fun for our audience to discover a piece. It’s a romp.” Unlike Roger Dean Stadium, which will require lots of modification, producing at the Benjamin School should be an easy load-in, Kato believes.
Then on Feb. 19 (through March 9), theatergoers will get their first look at the new Maltz Jupiter with the season’s third show, Sweet Charity, the Cy Coleman-Dorothy Fields-Neil Simon musical based on Federico Fellini’s film Nights of Cabiria, about a lovelorn taxi dancer. It will be followed by Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (March 22-April 10), a David Yazbek musical about a pair of con men, based on the movie that starred Michael Caine and Steve Martin.
Both shows have long been on the Maltz’s drawing boards, so they did not intend to demonstrate the capabilities of the new theater.
“I don’t know what modifications we may make to show it off,” says Kato. “When we were contemplating doing ‘Murder on the Orient Express,’ the idea of putting a train onstage would have been a way to show off. But ‘Sweet Charity’ and ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ were already designed.”
Still, theatergoers will probably notice the higher proscenium arch and stage size that will allow Broadway-bound shows to rent the space. “The proscenium is going up three feet – to 20 feet high – that’s probably the most impressive part of the whole build-out,” says Kato. “And the stage now has traps, so they dug down 20 feet into the ground. It’s like a large swimming pool under there.”
“The stage will be 10 feet deeper, six feet wider, so that when we’re ready to do pre-Broadway, it will match a Broadway space. Inside the theater chamber, we will be adding 42 seats to the first three rows,” Kato said. “But the intimacy of the theater space will not change.”