Curtains for the Prince Music Theater?

Prince Music Theater. Without Herb Lotman, "it's hard to see where the philanthropy will come from," said an insider.
Prince Music Theater. Without Herb Lotman, "it's hard to see where the philanthropy will come from," said an insider.
Posted: July 03, 2014

The Prince Music Theater will close its doors and cease to exist as a cultural institution Nov. 30 unless new leadership takes on the expense and work of keeping it alive, its current leaders say.

With the death in May of meat-processing entrepreneur and philanthropist Herb Lotman, the Prince lost its board chairman and chief fund-raiser. His widow, Karen Lotman, and their family are not interested in continuing his role in remaking and running the theater since it emerged from bankruptcy auction in January 2013.

This season, a total of 200 performances happened at the theater - Prince-presented shows, as well as rentals to outside groups. Of the Prince-presented shows, 70 percent of available seats were filled, on average, with paying ticket buyers.

The group has informed the owners of the building it occupies on Chestnut Street just west of Broad that it plans to break its 25-year lease as of Nov. 30. The theater's board, which recently approved the measure, could reverse its decision if it could raise $1.6 million to underwrite a 2014-15 schedule, said Stan Fronczkowski - a friend and longtime colleague of Herb Lotman before the processed-meat magnate sold Keystone Foods - who is working with Karen Lotman and son Jeff Lotman on the matter.

"The family is willing to support the theater through November and then is certainly willing to have others take over the reins," Fronczkowski said. "Beyond November, they don't see themselves being involved."

Karen Lotman, in a prepared statement, said: "It is with tremendous sadness that we make this announcement today. Herb and I poured our hearts and souls into the theater and loved watching it grow. More than 60,000 people visited this year, but we need a new champion and donor for the organization to move forward."

Fronczkowski said various new leadership models were possible - an individual, a new board, or a takeover by another institution. If none steps forward, the fate of the building and the 446-seat theater within it "at that point would be up to the real estate group," which is headed by a partnership that includes Philadelphia real estate owner/developers Ira M. Lubert and Ron Caplan. Lubert referred questions on the matter to Caplan, who did not respond to several messages.

Prince Theater executive director James E. Hines said the organization had met its fund-raising and earned-income goals during the first season in its new incarnation as presenter rather than producer, with donations of $1.6 million and earned income of $2.4 million.

Without Herb Lotman, however, "it's hard to see where the philanthropy will come from," said Hines. "Ideally, the Prince would continue. But just how do you do it? With Herb, you had someone who did it single-handedly. How do you sustain it without Herb being the champion?"

In its previous form, under cofounder Marjorie Samoff, the Prince closed its final production, It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, on Christmas Eve 2008. TD Bank foreclosed on the mortgage, and after a series of legal moves, the Prince filed for bankruptcy in October 2010.

Just a week before his death, Lotman was talking about plans for a new season and building programming, perhaps bringing in more family entertainment and restoring some of the producing the theater did before entering bankruptcy and effectively exiting as two entities: the ownership group of the building (which includes Karen Lotman), and the arts group renting space from it.

In the first season in its new form (it was founded in 1984 as the American Music Theater Festival), the Prince presented touring shows such as Harry Potter: The Unauthorized Experience, cabaret, and rentals to local groups such as the Curtis Institute of Music and Philadelphia Gay Men's Chorus. Rickie Lee Jones and the English Beat also performed there recently.

Herb Lotman had talked about the possibility of moving away from a heavily commercial roster, which he had hoped would attract foundation funding. Now, its first new season and a half looks like its last.


pdobrin@phillynews.com

215-854-5611

www.inquirer.com/artswatch

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