Any doubts about quitting his job and moving city, were put to bed for Richie Ross last week when, after three months of toil, the former Broadway Theatre once again played host to a West End show.
To outsiders, it may seem odd that Mr Ross would leave his role as theatre director of the Regent in Ipswich to try and transform a venue with a terrible reputation, after various disasters left customers out of pocket more than once and vowing to never return.
But, after a summer slog the newly named (and revamped) New Theatre played host to a five-night run of award-winning risqué puppet show Avenue Q, marking a fresh dawn for an iconic setting which at one stage looked doomed to be turned into city centre flats.
“There have been some long days,” admitted Mr Ross, who was headhunted by the theatre’s new operators Selladoor Worldwide to make it a top entertainment venue.
“Everything else has been getting the right people in to do the jobs and, touch wood, we’ve managed to do that.”
The decision to leave thelarger theatre in Ipswich was part excitement at the project, and part nostalgia for Mr Ross, who brought shows to the Broadway in the past.
When he took over in June the venue was reeling from the painful ending under its previous operator Mark Ringer which saw thousands of pounds owed in business rates and, allegedly, to show promoters, not to mention the angry customers.
The theatre is owned by Rinaldo Fasulo and leased to the Dawe Charitable Trust, which began its sub-lease with Selladoor last month.But, even before then, a huge amount of work has gone in to get the theatre ready for opening night, with the final bill expected to reach £400,000.
“When you walk into the foyer you have a lovely, fresh bar which has been put in, and there’s a separate box office counter. The whole place has had a lovely coat of paint and a massive deep clean, and the biggest development is the infrastructure we’ve built over the stage. The only way we can get those big shows in, is by investing in the stage, because up until now we wouldn’t have been able to get them in here.”
So will sceptical punters be returning to the New Theatre?
“I remember when the venue was very successful and we’re going to get back to that,” declared a confident Mr Ross.
Long days to get the New Theatre ready for opening night
Asked what the biggest challenge has been since he took over as theatre director in June, Mr Ross replied: “It’s managing timelines. When you’re dealing with a venue this size and all the different areas at the same time, that was probably the most challenging thing, because there have been some long days. I’ve been in at four in the morning and not left until seven or eight at night.”
Under global company Selladoor a number of changes have been made to the theatre - with the fresh appearance in the foyer complemented with the renaming of the Broadway Suite as the Boizot Lounge in honour of former owner Peter Boizot who passed away last December.
Asked how hard it has been to get the theatre ready for opening night, Mr Ross said: “It was quite stress free because there was a gap between the last operator leaving and us coming in. Also, a lot had been managed by the Dawe Charitable Trust. We’ve been alright until the last week when it was literally just all hands on deck to get the job done.”
Big names and big shows coming to the New Theatre
As well as Avenue Q, visitors to the theatre can look forward to seeing high profile shows such as Fame, not to mention a Christmas pantomime of The Wizard of Oz with Strictly champion Katya Jones (pictured).
And an impressive first season of productions will include shows brought by impresario Bill Kenwright such as Joseph and The Technicolor Dreamcoat.
Mr Ross said: “We can only survive from what we put on the stage. Because Selladoor are historically producers, bringing our own shows to the venue is easy. The biggest thing we’ve had is the support of the other producers.
“People like Bill Kenwright are still willing to support this venue with Gaslight, Joseph and Cabaret. The fact they are willing to bring shows back to this venue shows they have confidence in this venue and in this city.”
Mr Ross said goodwill towards the theatre will help it be successful in the long term, adding: “We can definitely make a profit. We’re in this for the long run. We’ve invested a lot of money upfront, the doors are open and we’re trading. We’ve got some fantastic shows coming this year and next year.
“We’re professionals and we know we can make money out of it, and give a great service to Peterborough.”
Aside from classic theatre productions, the New Theatre will be offering comedy and gigs, with Toploader coming in the new year.