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Colony Theatre continues to hang in there

Troubled theater hasn't announced new season, but refuses to close.

April 26, 2013|By Steve Appleford, steve.appleford@latimes.com
  • Barbara Beckley, artistic director at the Colony Theatre, on stage at the Burbank location on Tuesday, August 14, 2012.
Barbara Beckley, artistic director at the Colony Theatre,… (Raul Roa / Staff…)

Last Wednesday night, Barbara Beckley got a familiar feeling of relief, as the Colony Theatre's production of "Falling for Make Believe" successfully completed its first preview performance at the 270-seat nonprofit Burbank venue. The usual suspense in the weeks leading up to that first night was now behind the theater's artistic director, even as another worry was always nearby.

"Once a show is running, we all breathe a little bit," says Beckley, who has been with the Colony for more than 37 years. "The hard part is getting it going. Any theater person will tell you that."

The new show is an original play written by Mark Saltzman originating at the Colony: a musical biography of the lyricist Lorenz Hart, composer of the standards "My Funny Valentine," "Manhattan" and "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered," among dozens of other instantly recognizable songs co-authored with Richard Rodgers.

"This is the first time his real story has been told," she says of Hart, a closeted gay man in the 1930s and '40s, a man who possessed great gifts, but who suffered from depression and alcoholism before dying at age 48 from exposure. "It explores that side of his life, and it's done very tastefully."

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But Burbank theater-goers no doubt noticed the absence of any scheduled productions after the Hart show ends its run on May 19. That marks the end of the current Colony season, and in a normal year, there would be another season scheduled to unfold within weeks. Not this time, as the theater's ongoing financial problems remain unresolved.

"After all the ups and downs of the past year, we were thrilled we able to get the financing to make it to the end of the season," says Beckley of the theater, based for a dozen years in the heart of downtown Burbank after a quarter-century in Silver Lake. "I absolutely didn't want to be one of those theaters that closes and leaves subscribers holding tickets they can't use."

On Oct. 27, an emergency "Save the Colony" fundraising campaign was launched, but fell short of the $500,000 the Colony hoped to raise by January. That amount would have funded two shows and allowed some rebuilding of staff and marketing resources, while paying off some debts. But that didn't happen, in spite of an emotional outpouring of support from the theater's regular clientele, including a 3,000-member subscriber base.

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