News Column

Poindexter's theater history has had some hits, misses

July 21, 2013


The National Arts Institute's claims to theater expertise rest onproducing artistic director Karen Poindexter's experience. She hasbeen associated with three South Florida commercial theaters: theBurt Reynolds Jupiter Theatre, the Hirschfeld Theatre in MiamiBeach and the Clematis Street Theatre in West Palm Beach.

Linda Birdsey worked with Poindexter at Burt Reynolds' theater and,according to federal tax records, served with her on the board ofthe G-Star School of the Arts for Film, Animation and PerformingArts in Palm Springs.

"Karen has the business sense, the producer sense and the artisticsense," she said. "She has the full package."

Poindexter declined to be interviewed, but summarized herexperience in a July 11 email to the Palm Beach Daily News.

Poindexter worked for Reynolds as a producer from 1980 to 1988,when Reynolds was inviting his Hollywood pals to his 449- seatdinner theater to gain stage experience away from the eyes ofbig- city critics.

The theater, which also operated an apprentice program, focused on"light comedy and musical fluff" but occasionally "would extend thehorizons of regional theater by putting on works of rare scope andtalent," according to a 1989 Palm Beach Post story. Shows includedan original production of The News. In 1985, the show transferredto Broadway and garnered a Tony nomination for its score, but itfolded after four performances. Reynolds sold the money- losingtheater company in 1989.

Poindexter's bio also credits her with working on Reynolds' movies.Reynolds declined several requests for interviews.

Poindexter left Reynolds' company to open a 900-seat theater in aMiami Beach hotel for Abe Hirschfeld, an eccentric real estatemagnate who was convicted in 2000 of trying to hire a hit man tokill his business partner. Their producing partnership continuedfor several years, spanning film and theater.

At Hirschfeld's theater, Poindexter produced well-known showsfeaturing familiar names, including Anything Goes with BebeNeuwirth and Marilyn McCoo, and Oliver starring Davy Jones. Shealso programmed original musicals, such as a retelling of ThePhantom of the Opera created by Lawrence Rosen, Paul Schierhorn andBruce Falstein.

The new musical The Prince of Central Park played at Hirschfeld'stheater before it transferred to Broadway in 1989. The production,which Hirschfeld and Jan McArt produced and Poindexter executiveproduced, closed after four performances.

Ticket sales at Hirschfeld's theater were erratic, according to a1990 Sun-Sentinel report. Hirschfeld quarreled with Miami Beachofficials over alleged code violations. He pulled the plug on thetheater in April 1990, after less than two years in business.

Poindexter and Hirsch-feld teamed up again in 1993 for a 25thanniversary revival of Hair at the Old Vic in London. According toa 2005 story in The Guardian, the show bombed.

Poindexter's most recent gig as a theater operator began in 1999,when Frank Sugrue tapped her to be the executive producer of the377-seat Clematis Street Theatre in West Palm Beach after he andlandlord Bob Cuillo took over the space from the failed BurtReynolds Institute for Theatre Training.

The theater mounted just one independent production during its18- month life, A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline, and never puttogether a subscription series. The Cline show ran for six months,even though it didn't make money, simply to keep the doors open,Poindexter told The Palm Beach Post in November 1999. The theatertried to fill the gaps with rental productions, which frequentlyweren't profitable or canceled because of slow ticket sales.

When Gail Shank, who later became the venue's executive director,started working at the theater in November 1999, "It was crazy,"she said. "All these people were spending money, whose money theydidn't care. There was not a lot going on. It was chaos."

Poindexter and Hirsch-feld rented the theater for the ClematisStreet Theatre's final production, The Phantom of the Opera. InApril 2000, Cuillo evicted Sugrue for failing to pay rent and realestate taxes.

After the Clematis Street Theatre closed, Poindexter continued toproduce occasionally. She co-produced the drag queen musical DivaDiaries, which played at the Broward Center for the Performing Artsin Fort Lauderdale, the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center (now theDavid A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts) in 2003 and theLakeshore Theater in Chicago in 2004.

Recently, she and Trent Armand Kendall, a former Burt Reynoldstheater apprentice, joined forces to produce Kendall's one- man showPicture Incomplete, which was warmly received during the 2012 NewYork Musical Theatre Festival and other New York festivals.Currently they're developing a show about Louis Armstrong and EllaFitzgerald, Kendall said.

"The best thing about Karen is that she's patient andeven- tempered," Kendall said. "She's also creative andknowledgeable about keeping shows in budget. She's been doing thisso long, she has a good number of sound relationships with people."

Poindexter is a member of the panel that recommends shows to thejudges of the annual Carbonell Awards, which recognize excellencein South Florida regional theater. Several South Florida theaterprofessionals contacted for comment about Poindexter's theaterexpertise either said they didn't know her well enough to respondor declined to comment.

-- jsjostrom@

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