Hilldale Theatre closes out 40 years of operation this week with a screening of the participatory 'Sing-Along Sound of Music,' which runs at 1 and 6 p.m. on Dec. 15-17. The theater opened in January 1966 with the first run of the Julie Andrews musical, and Hilldale general manager Craig Hussin says the sing-along version puts a fitting cap on its decades of operation.
'We're making this our last big hurrah,' he says. 'We're trying to make this a big party, with costumes and a pre-show warm-up that shows people how to sing along.'
Once the party's over, the theater will be readied for demolition early next year as part of the further expansion of Hilldale Mall. Hussin hopes to land a position with Sundance 608, the new independent and art-film-oriented multiplex being developed at the southern end of Hilldale Mall. The Robert Redford-backed complex of theaters and dining spots is slated to open this spring.
AGT Enterprises Inc., which owns Hilldale Theatre, had considered becoming part of the mall's ongoing refurbishment. But AGT's Bill Adamany Jr. says that after having exploratory discussions with mall owner Joseph Freed and Associates, his company decided to move on and concentrate on its string of Star Cinema multiplexes.
'It was a successful theater for us,' says Adamany, whose company purchased Hilldale in 2000. 'When we got the good pictures there we did extremely well. There were times that we were one of the top-grossing theaters in the state in the art market.'
Hussin and Adamany both think that Sundance will be a perfect fit for the re-imagined Hilldale. But Hussin says that the bulldozers will be wiping away a little bit of local cinema history when the old theater is shuttered for good.
'I'm glad they're replacing Hilldale with a theater that shows the same type of products,' he says. 'But I'll be a little sad to see it go. It is a good theater. We've prided ourselves on providing the best possible shows for our patrons and making sure that they have a good time when they come here. I also like to think we have the best popcorn in town.'
CTM roars back
Thanks to the successful run of its 31st holiday production of A Christmas Carol, a very painful year has ended on a high note for CTM Madison Family Theatre Company. The company's new board president, Sandra Fernandez, reports that Ebenezer Scrooge et al. filled an average of 70% of the seats in the Overture Center's Capitol Theater during two weekends of performances. Better still, Fernandez says that the $300,000 of red ink that nearly sank the company in early 2006 should be erased by spring.
'Things are looking fabulous,' she says. 'We're so pleased to be back in the Overture Center with A Christmas Carol. We're thrilled with the quality of the production and with the outpouring from the community as far as donations [to CTM]. It's been a challenging year, but it's also been a learning experience, and a very rewarding one at that.'
Earlier this year, CTM was in such dire straits that the board suspended the rest of its 2005-2006 season. But Fernandez says the hard times are now in the past. With A Christmas Carol in the books, the company is looking forward to producing a stage version of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird this May at Overture's smaller Playhouse.
Fernandez says the board was pleased with the job that director Roseann Sheridan did with A Christmas Carol, and the American Players Theatre alum is the frontrunner for directing To Kill a Mockingbird. 'She's excellent artistically,' Fernandez says. 'And she brought the Christmas Carol production in under budget, which is amazing.'
Although CTM had become used to producing five plays each season, Fernandez says the company's ambitions are now more modest. This year CTM will mount just two shows. If everything goes according to plan, the board will expand its schedule to three productions the following season. Fernandez adds that the cautious approach to programming is predicated on the board's desire to keep artistic standards high without piling up more debt in the process.
'The criteria for moving forward are, first of all, fiscal responsibility,' she says. 'And, second of all, to continue with the artistic excellence that CTM's been known for over many years.'