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Staging Area

Stamford Palace Theatre

BT McNicholl at the Palace Theatre

Photographs: McNicholl Courtesy of the Stamford Center for the Arts

Since being appointed the Palace Theatre’s new Producing Artistic Director, to a role once held by Alexander H. Cohen (founder of the Tony Awards telecast), BT McNicholl has begun elevating the quality of the theater’s current programming. He is also developing independent productions and series for the 2014-2015 season at the Palace’s mainstage, and overseeing the long-awaited renovation of the site’s Off-Broadway-sized playhouse. “We are thinking outside the box, “says McNicholl, a veteran of the Broadway community, whose directorial credits include Billy Elliot, Spamalot, The Country Girl and Cabaret. (He is currently on the creative team behind the Cabaret revival coming to Studio 54’s Kit Kat Klub this March.)

“I do believe it’s our mission and joy to bring quality programming and entertainment to Stamford and beyond,” says McNicholl. The specifics are still under wraps, but to that end, McNicholl plans to bring in and produce large productions, small plays, music and comedy, fun for families, even a lecture series. He will also add more music series to the already popular Showcase 61 for emerging artists, and the cabaret-inspired Perfect Pairs.

“The Fairfield County audience is diverse,” he adds. “You have the young crowd and you have an older audience, and all are more sophisticated because they are used to seeing the best in Manhattan. You also have families who want to be entertained, engaged emotionally and intellectually, and enlightened.”

Key to McNicholl’s plans is the development of original works for the mainstage and the playhouse, and tapping into his vast contact list to help pull this together. “Artists in New York City are already telling me, ‘I can’t wait to get up there.’”

The plan is a no-brainer, says McNicholl, in large part due to the Palace’s two staging options, each originally conceived, designed and built specifically for the enjoyment of performing arts. “I’ve worked in enough theaters around the world to know that when you build a theater, you build it so artists feel like it’s a great place to perform, [where] designers will not be faced with unexpected challenges, and the performer-audience relationship is ideal.”

Another bonus: “The main stage is the same size as a Broadway theater. The [playhouse] is the same size as an Off-Broadway theater. What a gift to have both in one space.”

Plus there are memories attached. When McNicholl was growing up in Darien, he treated his mother to a performance of Mame at the Palace. He remembers buying the tickets himself. Soon after beginning talks with the theater’s board, he came across past billboards, including the one of Mame. “Seeing the poster downstairs brought back some happy memories.”

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