If every cloud has a silver lining, then the pandemic that shut down the U.S. economy in 2020 delivered a serendipitous opportunity for the Maltz Jupiter Theatre to accelerate its highly anticipated $40 million renovation.
When the theater reopens in February, patrons will see an entirely new Maltz, inside and out. Outside, angled spotlights will sweep across the sky, lighting up a much larger, modern facility with Art Deco angles designed by Oscar Garcia of Currie Sowards Aguila Architects. Inside, Neil Simon’s high-energy, Tony-nominated production of Sweet Charity will take place on a brand-new main stage specifically redesigned to attract first-class shows.
“I’m most excited about the Broadway-scale stage, because that means we can get Broadway-bound shows,” says Producing Artistic Director and Chief Executive Andrew Kato. “I think we’ll get national attention.”
The new facility is part of a five-year strategic plan developed by the board of directors, the tireless work of many employees and volunteers, and millions of dollars in generous donations from a committed community. But at its core, it’s the culmination of a decades-long dream of three single-minded visionaries: the couple who became the major benefactors and namesake of the theater and the homegrown boy who forged a successful path as a Broadway producer before returning home to steer a course that transformed the Maltz Jupiter Theatre into a premier performing arts facility.
It’s been a long journey from the days of the Burt Reynolds Dinner Theatre, which opened in 1979 and operated on the site for a decade. After it closed, the building languished, first as the Carousel Dinner Theatre and then as a church, before falling into disrepair. In 2001, a group of patrons formed with the hope of opening a new theater. Two years later, a major contribution from Milton and Tamar Maltz proved the catalyst for creating the not-for-profit facility it is today.
“When we first arrived in Jupiter, Tamar looked at the so-called cultural offerings in town and said, ‘There’s nothing going on,’” says 92-year-old Milton Maltz. “So we did something.” The broadcasting entrepreneur never doubted that the theater would grow into the success it is today. “I’ve always believed in doing things all the way or not at all,” he says. “We wanted theater to be the main and only event.” The Maltzes continue to be the main benefactors, contributing $30 million since it became their namesake, including $10 million to the current upgrade.
But without a passionate and capable leader, all the money in the world wouldn’t be enough to realize the dream of a first-class regional theater. Kato was brought in as producing artistic director in 2005, during the Maltz’s second season. But it wasn’t his first experience at that location. “I went to Jupiter High
School and put myself through Florida State by working for eight years as a waiter at the Burt Reynolds Dinner Theatre,” he says.
After graduation, Kato headed for the bright lights of the big city and ended up working as a producer on Broadway for 14 years and was creative consultant and coordinating producer for the Tony Awards for 13 years. While at the top of his game, he got the call from Milton to take on a challenge back on his home turf. Milton recalls the meeting where he and Tamar made the decision that would catapult the theater to a new level. “We were in New York to interview producers, and we had talked to several,” he says. “Then in walked Andrew Kato—and within 5 or 10 minutes, my wife and I looked at each other and said, ‘He’s the one.’”
For his part, Kato saw an opportunity to repay the community that had been so generous to him. When he was just starting out in his career, he wrote and produced Switch, which was made possible by $10,000 in local donations. When he returned to
Jupiter at the age of 40 as a successful producer, the regional venue gave him plenty of room to grow and implement what he had learned in New York. “I just felt they needed someone to love it,” he says of the Maltz. “There was so much not going for it at the time. It didn’t even have furniture in the lobby.”
That is a far cry from what theatergoers will see next month. By opening day, the exterior of the now three-story building will be complete. Inside, the main floor will be nearly complete. It includes a redesigned lobby, a gift shop, a box office, the upgraded main stage, dressing rooms, offices, and a space called GR2, where high-end donors can convene before and after shows. The second and third floors—which will house the new, larger Goldner Conservatory, six rehearsal studios, dressing rooms, a costume shop, and a dining experience called Scene—will be completed at a later date, when more funds have been raised.
A major change to the theater is the additional seating for the main stage, which will now accommodate 659, and the new second performance/event space, with seating for 199. “The second space creates an opportunity to diversify programming, with no downtime between performances during the season,” says Kato. “From a strategic point, we wanted to look at how we can maximize the season. We normally do five main shows a season. As we grow, we’ll probably add three more in the smaller space.” Intimate shows during the “shoulder” season—between April and October—are also being discussed for the second space.
Scheduled in three acts, or phases, only Act 1 of the renovation, the expanded parking lot, was finished before the pandemic, says Jess Sowards, principal in charge at Currie Sowards Aguila Architects. The other two acts were originally scheduled to begin in April 2021 but were accelerated during the shutdown.
The third story of the facility was added purely for practical reasons. “Initially, we had an issue with fitting all of the building requirements on the site, so we started to stack,” explains Garcia, principal architect on the project. “By stacking floors, we were able to essentially add an additional 30,000-plus square feet, nearly double the original, with the same footprint.”
The crowning glory of the building is the “curtain wall”—three stories of angled windows on the southwest corner that give the public a peek into the inner workings (or the “soul,” as Kato describes it) of the theater. The costume shop, rehearsal hall, and GR2 will be visible from outside the building. “That was Andrew’s idea,” says Garcia. “He wanted people to have a literal window into what is going on inside.”
Kato is especially proud of how the new space caters to the actors, including the more conveniently located dressing rooms. “The theater has always been good to its patrons, but actors were not always as well-served,” he says. “This new facility values the actors in a significant way.”
The Maltz kicks off its Grand Reopening Season this month, and since the space won’t be quite ready in time, Kato found outside performance spaces to host his first two productions, dubbing the tour “Maltz Without Walls.” The season will open with I Hate Hamlet at The Benjamin School. “The logistics of arranging those shows was a feat unto itself,” says Kato.
And when the Maltz opens its doors to the public on February 19, Kato will be there to greet the community, staff, and volunteers he loves like family. There is still work to be done (“We still have $10 million to go—$4 million for bricks and mortar and $6 million to repay a loan,” he says). But he has complete confidence in his hometown. “Most of our donors have come from Jupiter, and they have been amazing.”
February 8 to 20: I Hate Hamlet, The Benjamin School
February 19 to March 9: Sweet Charity, Maltz Jupiter Theatre
March 22 to April 10: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Maltz Jupiter Theatre
*There will also be special limited engagement shows throughout the season, including musical tributes to Paul McCartney, The Eagles, and Billy Joel. For more information and tickets, visit jupitertheatre.org.