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KIDS MOVE TO THE CITY : Broadway on Tour, a Children's Theater Company, Finds Permanent Home in Mall

June 03, 1993|CORINNE FLOCKEN | Corinne Flocken is a free-lance writer who regularly covers Kid Stuff for The Times Orange County Edition.

Despite leaden skies outside on a recent Sunday afternoon, things were quiet inside The City shopping center in Orange. Fast-food workers whiled away their shifts with side work and small talk; a few shoppers sauntered lazily between the stores. Occasionally, the blip-blip of an electronic cash register rang out and echoed across the tile floor like the sound of a leaky faucet at midnight.

Down in the north end of the center, however, things were much livelier. From a seemingly vacant store front, youthful laughter and bursts of song spilled into the mall walkway. Little knots of shoppers gathered outside. Some poked their heads in and moved on, but others, mostly children, hung around to watch the strange events taking place on the other side of the unpainted facade.

Almost two weeks before its official opening, Broadway on Tour was already attracting crowds.

After years of camping out in various facilities, children's theater company Broadway on Tour has found a permanent home in The City. Under the direction of company founder Dan Halkyard, the five-year-old nonprofit troupe has converted a 7,200-square-foot storefront into a 200-seat arena-style theater. Plans call for a family-oriented musical featuring local youths to be staged nearly every weekend at the facility, beginning this weekend.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday June 5, 1993 Orange County Edition Calendar Part F Page 2 Column 1 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 18 words Type of Material: Correction
Mall Occupancy--Occupancy at the City Shopping Center in Orange is about 85%. The wrong figure was given in OC Live! on Thursday.

Tonight, the group's Youth Repertory company, an advanced acting troupe of teen-agers and young adults, will open a two-week run of the 1960 musical, "The Fantasticks." On Saturday, younger company members take the stage with a musical version of "Jack and the Beanstalk," which will run every weekend through Aug. 1. The company's summer musical, an elaborate, large-cast staging of "The Wizard of Oz," is scheduled to open Aug. 5.

The theater will also offer special prices and packages for groups and birthday parties. Beyond that, plans are sketchy, although Halkyard said he is considering offering bilingual productions and a series of lunchtime one-acts for adult audiences.

Tishman West Co., the management firm for The City, has been "extremely supportive" of the new theater, said Halkyard. The troupe will rent the space from the mall on a monthly basis, for only $200 per month. According to mall manager Jack Boyster, the space could command as much as $40,000 to $50,000 per year from a traditional retail tenant.

Volunteers, mostly parents of children involved in the program, have put in hundreds of hours converting the former dress store into a working theater, a process that will continue well after opening, said Carol Kling, president of BOT's board of directors. Dressing rooms in the former Lerner clothing store are being expanded, and a sound booth and office are being built in the former check-out stand. Back rooms where trendy clothing once hung are being modified to store hundreds of costumes and props, many of them donated to the troupe by Fullerton Civic Light Opera. Parents are also helping to construct and paint flats and set pieces created for them at a cut rate by set designer Neil Kaplan.

Mall workers have "been wonderful," constructing an exterior wall and assisting in small alterations, said Kling, whose 15-year-old daughter Lauren, a BOT veteran, will star as Luisa in "The Fantasticks."

The arrangement is clearly a boon for BOT, which has involved some 1,000 young actors and turned out consistently medium- to high-quality family productions on a shoestring, including a powerful staging last year of "The Miracle Worker" at Anaheim's Vineyard church. With a permanent address and The City's marketing support, the company will be better equipped to attract larger, steadier audiences for its productions, as well as expand its musical theater training programs for youths.

While The City is to be applauded for helping bring BOT into the central county--an area not exactly known for a glut of family theater groups--the deal is not entirely one-sided. Mall officials say they hope their investment will pay back in increased foot traffic. They could use it. According to 1990 State Board of Equalization statistics (the last year for which figures are available), The City ranks second to last in taxable retail sales in 12 Orange County malls, a situation that can only be worsened by the mall's recent loss of the May Co., one of its major anchors.

According to Boyster, the mall is currently running at about 65% tenant occupancy; the Lerner store has been empty for almost a year.

"We expect (BOT) to draw a lot of people in," said Boyster. "In some ways, it's the same concept as South Coast Plaza's carousel, in that it will bring families into the mall. But with (the carousel), it's usually just mom or dad who bring the kids in; here there are parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles who will come to watch the kids perform." And if they decide to buy a meal or shop while they're in the neighborhood, so much the better, added Boyster.

"The mall is looking to bring in the family unit, and so are we," agreed Halkyard, an independent real estate appraiser who said that, except for an occasional director's fee, he receives no compensation for the 10,000 to 12,000 hours he's invested in the company

"I'm not a one-person crusade or anything, but I think that families are crying for an alternative to all the violence in movies and television," added Halkyard, who said he was first attracted to theater as a refuge from his difficult childhood. "I wish I could do theater 24 hours a day, to give the kids something to come home to."

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