Company managing Hippodrome is sold

New owner says it will expand stage offerings

January 29, 2008|By Mary Carole McCauley | Mary Carole McCauley,Sun theater critic

After more than a year wearing a prominent "for sale" tag, the theatrical company that manages the Hippodrome Theatre has been sold to a New York investment company, which promises to expand its stage offerings.

The sale to Key Brand Entertainment for $90.4 million allows Live Nation Inc. to focus more on its core business, concert and festival promotion. In the deal yesterday, Live Nation sold its theatrical assets in North America, including Broadway Across America, the operator of the Hippodrome. Broadway Across America is the nation's largest promoter and presenter of hits such as Wicked and The Producers.

Heading up Key Brand are two major names in the entertainment business: former Viacom executive Thomas B. McGrath and veteran British theater producer John Gore.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's Today section misidentified the new executive director of the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center. Stella Benkler will take over that job next month.
THE SUN REGRETS THE ERROR

Gore and McGrath say they hope to develop major productions for Broadway and find new markets for their touring arm in the U.S., Canada and Japan.

Broadway Across America presents shows in 42 U.S. cities, including Baltimore; leases, manages or owns eight venues; and has investments in 27 current, touring or coming shows in New York and London.

"We see our mission as providing indelible memories and electrifying experiences that will both invigorate existing theatergoers and help beguile new ones," McGrath, chairman of Key Brand Entertainment, said in a news release.

"The beauty of this transaction is it brings together people who have an inexhaustible passion for the theater, and those who have decades of experience running large entertainment companies."

A Hippodrome spokeswoman declined to comment on the sale, but it was not unexpected. Live Nation essentially is a music company that found itself in the theater business, and, for the past two years, it has actively divested itself of all its non-music-related assets, to the tune of $260 million. While the management will change, the Hippodrome will still be owned by a public/private partnership.

Live Nation will continue to hold onto its interest in Washington's Warner Theatre, which currently is being used exclusively as a music venue.

There are no plans to change the Broadway Across America staffing, according to the news release.

But in an unrelated development, it was learned yesterday that Marks Chowning, the executive director of the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, which houses the Hippodrome, has accepted a job at Base Entertainment in Las Vegas.

Chowning's last day on the job will be next month; the facility's new executive director will be Sheila Benkler, currently the performing arts center's general manager.

mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

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