He is the man entrusted with bringing the good times back to Peterborough’s premier theatre, but Richie Ross, who took up the reins of the soon-to-be-renamed Peterborough New Theatre, remains undaunted.
Richie, who has been in the business for going on 20 years, is fully aware of the recent chequered history of the Broadway – which is what the sign outside still says until September, when Selladoor Worldwide formally takeover.
The deal to take on the running of the theatre – and to rename it– was announced in March and Selladoor, one of the biggest players in the UK with productions running overseas too, have wasted no time in bringing in Richie as their theatre director. And while the summer will have passed before the Peterborough New Theatre signs go up, the hard work has already begun, from recruiting a new local team, to promoting some of the shows which we do know about.
That includes smash hits Avenue Q and Madagascar The Musical – both big Selladoor success stories – top rated mystery The Mousetrap and, of course, The Wizard of Oz – a panto which had Strictly Come Dancing beauty Katya Jones unveiled as its star last week.
Richie, who only started on Monday, has shown his commitment by moving into the city already and was sitting amongst cardboard boxes waiting for furniture to be delivered when we spoke.
“I know about the false starts here in the past, customers had their fingers burnt and so did Selladoor who were due to bring a show here, I acknowledge that, but we have to move on.
“This is about the future. What this place needs is a strong management structure and people who know what they are doing in this business. And that is what we can offer.”
Richie has come from the slightly larger, council-run Regent Theatre in Ipswich, which he had been running for the past two years.
“It was while I was there that I got to know Phil and David (Selladoor founders) by taking their shows – Fame, Madagascar, Footloose, Flashdance, Avenue Q, all big productions. We got on well and struck up a good friendship.
“When the offer of this job came up it was a no brainer. I was here about 15 years ago with The Rat Pack and Dancing in the Street (as tour manager) so I knew the venue – and I knew that when it is good, it is really good, and you can create a great atmosphere, particularly when it is full.
“I remember looking out from the stage and thinking ‘wow, this is stunning’ so the task now is to get it back to how it was.”
Getting the “house full” signs up again means putting on shows the public will be happy buying tickets for.
“Look, it is never cheap when people go out anymore, so we have to really entertain people, send them home safe after having a great night, and think it was money well spent.”
While Selladoor, of course, will put some of their big name touring shows on, it will still be up to Richie to drive the strategy and programme events which will work for Peterborough.
“We have already got some great shows lined up for next year but I am not going to give too much away,” he said, although he did hint at “name” comedians, touring music acts and touring West End shows.
“To make producers and show promoters do business with you, you have to be able to handle what they have to offer and show them you can get bums on seats.
“We (Richie and Selladoor) have been about a while and have earned respectability and credibility within the industry, so conversations with Bill Kenwright Ltd, for instance, are easy because of that.
“ We have a good business model and recognition and reputation too. The Bill Kenwright seasons here a few years ago sold well and showed there is a market for this theatre and what it can offer.”
It might be some time off, but Richie has already got one eye on the festive season.
“We are overjoyed to bring panto back to the stage at the New Theatre with Strictly Come Dancing star Katya Jones as our star headline making her panto debut,” he said.
“For any theatre panto is such an exciting time as we welcome families old and new through our doors, and even after all these years, I still get that lump at the back of the throat as the house lights go down and the overture starts.”
To see everything that is coming up go to www.newtheatre-peterborough.com where you can also win a year’s worth of tickets.