Cabaret Old Town, the longtime music theater venue at 412 1/2 E. Douglas, will get new life later this year, along with a new-old name and a new-old director.
On Wednesday, a group of new owners announced they had purchased the business from Christi Moore and her partner Mark Leslie and that they would be making some changes, starting with the name.
The theater now will be called Roxy’s Downtown – the name of the music venue that operated in the space before Cabaret Old Town took over in 1993. A vintage, neon sign bearing that name is still on the building.
Roxy’s Downtown’s first show will open in November.
The new owners are Monica Flynn, the owner of Wichita Children’s Theatre & Dance Center; Larry and Sharla Michael and Charlotte Hays, all theater supporters and regulars at Cabaret Old Town.
John Hammer, a former set builder and art teacher, also is an owner and will serve as the theater’s operating manager and CEO.
And Christine Tasheff, the founder of Cabaret Old Town who sold it to Moore in 2005, will return as artistic director.
“Dreams are coming true,” Tasheff said Wednesday. “I still had Cabaret dreams probably twice a week for the last nine years and would wake up really depressed. And now I don’t have to.”
The idea for the purchase came from Hammer, who had built a few sets for Cabaret when Tasheff owned it and who worked as technical director at Wichita Children’s Theatre. He moved to Los Angeles in 2007 to teach art, returning to Wichita in late 2012.
This spring, he read in The Eagle that Moore was considering selling the theater. It has been dark since May.
He approached Flynn with a plan to buy it, and she was in. The duo then recruited the other investors. The new group of owners took over the building on Friday.
The new owners decided to rename the business Roxy’s Downtown, mainly because of the attractive, vintage neon sign, which has remained in place on the building through the years. They also plan to install an eye-catching new awning on the north side of the building, where the sign, entrance and parking lot are, as well as refurbish the south, Douglas-facing side.
Construction already is underway inside the space, where Hammer is planning to replace the outdated teal and mauve interior with a more modern color palette. He’s putting in new flooring, new lighting, reupholstering the old half-circle booths and adding more comfortable chairs to the cocktail tables.
The owners and Tasheff plan to continue the same type of comedic musical theater shows Cabaret Old Town has always offered.
The first show, which should open around Thanksgiving, will be “Plaid Tidings,” a Christmas comedy starring Cabaret regular Kyle Vespestad. Tasheff, who has spent the past nine years painting and dabbling in theater, also plans to bring back many of her favorite shows, including “Pageant” and “Always Patsy Cline.”
“We are going to continue to put on the kind of shows that the Wichita audience has come to expect, but we’ll also be expanding into some experimental theater on the nights we don’t have the main stage show to see how the Wichita audience responds,” Hammer said.
The owners also have plans to use the venue for concerts and educational workshops. They’ll be installing a projector and screen and hope to not only become involved with the Tallgrass Film Festival but also to offer screenings of art films. Partnering with the downstairs art galleries for Final Friday events also is in the plans.
“We’re going to try to keep dark days down to a minimum,” Hammer said. “The plan is that the only day we are closed is Sunday.”
Moore will tour with her show “Sweet Southern Comfort and Rock ‘n’ Roll” and may return to perform at Roxy’s, Hammer said.
Tasheff, who had to keep the secret of her return for weeks, said it’s almost like no time has passed.
“When I went up there the first time, I was in the office, and there was my old sewing machine. I opened up one of the drawers, and there was an earring of mine,” she said. “I feel like it’s been about two weeks since I’ve been in here, not nine years.”
The Roxy’s Downtown box office is scheduled to open Sept. 22.