The Orpheum Theatre is an historic icon of downtown Madison, though its recent past is riddled with dirty dealings, carelessness and marred friendships. The former owners, likened to soap opera personalities by The Capital Times in a revealing piece in June, brought more drama than harmony to the city during their tenure. After the revocation of the building’s liquor license and eventual foreclosure this summer, students and Madison residents alike were unsure how long the Orpheum’s towering red beacon would remain unlit.
Several prospective entities threw hats in the ring to determine who would earn the right to manage the theater now that Monona State Bank was calling the shots. In the end, Frank Productions won out. The Madison-based production company has been around for more than 40 years and is most recently known in the city for producing Freakfest this Halloween.
The company will manage shows and other goings-on at the Orpheum and intends to bid for ownership when the property goes to auction in eight- to-12 months. It has partnered with C3 Presents, a national production company that handles Lollapalooza in Chicago, and Austin City Limits to help with operations.
Higher-ups at Frank Productions are excited at the prospect of owning the Orpheum Theatre someday, Charlie Goldstone said, who joined the company nearly six years ago with a background in production and operations. The company was reportedly saddened to see the theater’s house lights darken.
“It left a hole in terms of entertainment. … To have a large, dark venue sitting right in the middle of State Street not only looks bad for the city but people lost jobs, they lost opportunities,” Goldstone said. “It really has kind of a butterfly effect when something like that happens in such a high-profile way.”
Goldstone works on booking sales, talent buying and venue and tour deals — essentially, a little bit of everything will be needed to restore the Orpheum’s star-studded reputation.
“We have had our eye on the Orpheum for several years … [and] are really excited about the possibilities,” Goldstone said. “Not only for our company, but just in being able to bring more shows to Madison that would normally skip the market because there has never really been a suitable venue for it. The Orpheum still needs a lot of work and a lot of improvement, and if we were to own the place we would make those improvements to attract bigger and better talent.”
Frank Productions will not be allowed to make any cosmetic or infrastructural changes to the building as managers. But it does have plenty of managerial changes in mind, which visitors should begin to see as early as this fall. Although the restaurant will not be re-opening, Goldstone said a liquor license, which is pending approval, would make the theater’s bar available for use during events by late November.
With the exception of the Wisconsin Film Festival, there are currently no plans for any kind of cinema to return to the Orpheum. The theater once hosted vaudeville acts and, more recently, movie screenings.
Goldstone highlighted a new website for the theater is in the works. In its final few months, previous ownership sorely lacked in providing convenient box office hours, made worse by a nearly nonexistent Internet presence.
“Right now, if you go to frankproductions.com, we have an Orpheum tab,” Goldstone said. “We’re currently in the process of buying out the domain names and we will eventually link to that page. We are definitely going to improve that and update it.”
With about three times the Majestic Theatre’s capacity, more than twice that of the Barrymore Theatre and about a quarter more than the capacity of its neighboring Capitol Theater, the Orpheum has the potential to sell far more tickets for Frank Productions. Goldstone said he feels the atmosphere at the Orpheum also lends itself well to the shows the company is inclined to book.
“The only other comparably-sized venue is Overture Hall, which is primarily used for Broadway, so a lot of times it hasn’t been available for contemporary shows that we would do. It’s also not the right vibe,” he said. “We are excited to [manage the Orpheum] and have the venue realize its potential, which for the past few years it really has not. It’s really been underutilized, so we are glad to be using it for what it is meant to be used for, which is live entertainment.”
Describing in more detail the “butterfly effect” he had attributed to the theater’s foreclosure, Goldstone explained the Orpheum has historically brought jobs to the area, attracted activity in surrounding businesses and provided entertainment for students and residents in Madison.
He said he hopes “getting back in there, managing it properly, turning the lights back on, bringing back shows” will be the ticket to getting the venue back on its feet. Perhaps Madison concertgoers will see an Orpheum Theatre in the near future that is able to operate as it once did, when it caught the attention of touring artists like Johnny Cash and Frank Sinatra rather than that of the Alcohol License Review Committee.