FOR ALMOST 25 years, the Prince Music Theater was celebrated nationally for its mission of exclusively staging musical-theater world premieres.
But that business model proved unsustainable when the Great Recession came knocking, and, in 2008, the curtain rang down on the Prince's three performance spaces, the largest of which seats about 450.
But thanks to a dedicated group of local movers and shakers who bought the property at 1412 Chestnut Street, the venue's second act is about to start - but with a decidedly different approach.
Theater - musical and dramatic - will still be on the menu, but only as part of a larger artistic meal at the facility that, despite the change in direction, retains the "Prince Music Theater" moniker.
"We're trying to find what the Prince is going to be now. Before, The Prince was solely the curator of new musical theater," offered Jamey Hines, the organization's recently installed executive director. "We actually modified the mission of the Prince to be more inclusive of cultivating new artists and also making sure we expand through cabaret, theater, musical theater, comedy, rock and indie rock."
According to Hines, who came to the Prince from his gig as artistic administrator of the Mann Center, theatrical offerings will likely comprise between a quarter and a third of the programming. And, for the foreseeable future, none of the productions will be built from scratch.
"I can't speak specifically for what the Prince did previously, but whenever you do anything new, you not only have the expense of creating it from scratch, but you have to teach people to come to see it, and that takes marketing dollars, and it just becomes a very expensive proposition," he reasoned.
"When you're creating new work from scratch, you're responsible for all the setup costs and trying to sell it to the public to come see this new creation, and hopefully they'll understand what it is and want to buy a ticket for it. It's a different model. If you bring somebody in who's known, then you're riding on their history and you don't need as much marketing and the costs are down and it's a safer venture, and we're working on that model.
"We always said we have to walk before we can run. We're not ready to produce new plays. We're going to act more as a performing-arts center."
As for the hall's non-theatrical blueprint (the 2013-14 season schedule is expected to begin in the early fall), pop and rock appear to be the mainstays, although the only booking thus far announced is the June 8 date by Pete Yorn & JD King are The Olms.
That live music will be the theater's bread-and-butter is suggested by the deal it has signed with Los Angeles-based mega-promoter AEG Live, which has established Philly beachheads at such diverse venues as the First Unitarian Church, Tower Theater, Wells Fargo Center and Academy of Music. The company also regularly books shows at several Atlantic City casinos.
And fans of the Prince's long-running cabaret series will be happy to know that that staple is definitely coming back. "It's something everyone has been asking about," said Hines. "The first one is in October."
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Prince's new direction is the earlier-this-week installation of state-of-the-art 3-D film-projection equipment, which represents the theater's only major capital investment to date.
For more on the Prince, go to princemusictheater.org.
'Barefoot' in AyCee
Friday, The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey's Dante Hall Theater debuts "Barefoot in the Park," the early-'60s romantic comedy that ultimately proved to be Neil Simon's longest-running Broadway show.
"Barefoot in the Park" tells the humorous tale of a rather straight-laced young lawyer whose wife is the free-spirited type, and the trials and tribulations that arise from the couple trying to negotiate their life together.