Nov. 30--STAMFORD -- A theater geek growing up, B.T. McNicholl remembers how exciting it was to see Broadway shows so close to home.
"I was raised in Darien, so I went there a lot as a kid," McNicholl said of the Palace Theatre, which at one time presented a steady slate of professional theater productions. "I knew the place very well."
More than 20 years later, McNicholl is about to become even more familiar with the Palace Theatre as he takes the creative reigns of the historic 1,580-seat venue.
Stepping into the role of producing artistic director, a title originally held by Alexander H. Cohen, the founder of the Tony Awards telecast, McNicholl will oversee productions at the Palace Theatre, along with a soon-to-be-completed subterranean playhouse and the Rich Forum, which is currently being leased by NBC Universal for the production of "The Jerry Springer Show."
McNicholl, who splits his time between Stamford and New York City, is "jazzed" by the opportunity to manage a cherished childhood haunt.
"If you told me when I was a teen that I would have my own vaudeville house, I'd go straight to the moon," McNicholl said during a phone interview last week.
Having worked on the creative team of a dozen Broadway and off Broadway plays and musicals ("Spamalot," "Cabaret, "Billy Elliot"), McNicholl comes to the Palace Theatre with a wealth of experience and connections -- credentials that caught the attention of an organization that is eager to expand its dramatic offerings.
"After talking with Mike Nichols, James Lapine and other theatrical luminaries -- all of whom spoke highly of B.T.'s artistry and professionalism -- we felt he would be a perfect match for the organization's bold new initiatives," said Mike Widland, the chair of the board of directors at the Stamford Center for the Arts.
McNicholl's credits include an Australian "Tony" (the Helpmann) for his direction of "Cabaret" and a Broadcast Music, Inc. award for his writing. He has also worked with long list of prestigious institutions, including the Roundabout, MGM, Shubert Organization, O'Neill Theatre Center and The Goodspeed Opera House.
He remains deeply connected to the Broadway world. In the last few weeks, he has led AnnMarie Milazzo, vocal arranger of "Spring Awakening;" Kate Dunn, choreographer of "Billy Elliot;" and Jennifer Werner, associate director of "The Book of Mormon," on tours of the Palace Theatre.
"There's been an outpouring of interest and enthusiasm" among theater professionals about working at the venue, McNicholl said.
Concurrently, McNicholl hopes to ramp up the commercial offerings -- comedy shows, rock concerts, family programs -- that have been the SCA's bread and butter since it emerged from bankruptcy in 2009. In that time, the Palace Theater has featured performances by Louis CK, Tony Bennett and Sesame Street, among others.
"The theater will be a focus of my mission, but it's certainly not exclusive," McNicholl said. "That's the joy of the Palace -- there's something for everybody."
Still, his arrival undoubtedly puts the spotlight on theater -- the spiritual foundation of the Palace Theatre and the force that drew McNicholl to the venue as a teen.
"Our mandate here is to do what good theaters do is to entertain, engage and enlighten," he said. "To entertain, as you can see, is first and foremost, but engaging peoples' minds and hearts and enlightening them intellectually will make this place relevant for generations and generations to come."
(c)2013 The Advocate (Stamford, Conn.)
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