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Troubled Theater To Be Sold

June 28, 1986|CHALON SMITH

Finanically troubled Sebastian's West Dinner Playhouse in San Clemente will be sold to the owners of another major Orange County dinner theater under a motion approved this week by a federal bankruptcy judge.

Judge Ralph Pagter of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Santa Ana accepted the $80,000 bid from Al and Barbara Hampton, co-owners of the Harlequin Dinner Playhouse in Santa Ana. In hearings this week, the Hamptons said they hope to polish the theater's smudged image and reopen by fall.

"It's in very sad shape now and really needs a great deal of work," Barbara Hampton said. "It needs remodeling--the air conditioner system, the roof, the interiors. It really needs an entire face lift." As much as $300,000 will be spent on renovations, she said.

The theater, which was owned by Sebastian's West Dinner Playhouse Inc., has been closed since its production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "South Pacific" was halted two weeks ago because of funding problems.

John M. Winkley, president of Sebastian's West Dinner Playhouse Inc., could not be reached. However, he said in an earlier interview that the theater's last full-run production, "Leonardo the Florentine," lost money and that "there was a cash flow problem between shows."

Santa Ana attorney Richard Marshack, the theater's court-appointed trustee, said Sebastian's West Dinner Playhouse Inc. was stripped of ownership because it still owed about $70,000 of the $112,000 it agreed to pay for the theater during court hearings in July, 1985. The firm purchased Sebastian's from California Dinner Playhouses Inc., which had filed for bankruptcy in late 1984.

Under the latest sale agreement, the Hamptons' $80,000 will be used to pay debts incurred by California Dinner Playhouses Inc.

The Hamptons plan to keep the dinner theater as the main business at Sebastian's but may also open a separate restaurant not tied to the productions. A new name--possibly the San Clemente Dinner Playhouse--is being considered, Barbara Hampton said.

She added that the purchase is risky because the theater's already weak reputation has been damaged further by the recent financial problems and a walk-out by "South Pacific's" production crew over a pay dispute.

"The way Sebastian's has been seen (in recent years) has certainly gone downhill, but we just hope there is some interest by the time we get through," she said.

The Hamptons are banking on the fact that Sebastian's has little competition in the southern part of the county and that they may be able to recapture the theater's once-steady audience.

The Hamptons have not decided which show will open its season, but they have no plans to resurrect "South Pacific." Barbara Hampton said they will not get involved in the conflict between the "South Pacific" production crew and Winkley. "We want to steer clear of all that," she said.

The director, choreographer, costumer, lighting designer, production manager and stage manager left the set June 4, claiming that Winkley did not pay them as scheduled. But Winkley said he thought an oral agreement had been reached allowing him until the show's scheduled last performance in August to meet his obligations.

"South Pacific" opened June 6 with the actors in homemade costumes but closed three days later.

Sebastian's, the Harlequin, Elizabeth Howard's Curtain Call Dinner Theater in Tustin and the Grand Dinner Theater in Anaheim are the county's major supper theaters.

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