The Crest Theatre
By Lynn DiMenna for Cabaret Scenes
Do you remember the1939 film Babes in Arms when Mickey Rooney came up with the idea to use his parents’ barn to mount a show, and Judy Garland suggested she could make the costumes on her mother’s sewing machine? Well, with a similar kind of “anything goes” optimism, in 1992 co-producers Mark Keller (from Bi-Coastal Productions) and Joe Gillie (the Executive Director of the newly named Delray Beach Center for the Arts at Old School Square in Delray Beach, Florida) brainstormed about starting a Broadway Cabaret Series in the former Delray High School auditorium. The result: the beautifully renovated Crest Theater. Both men had extensive experience in musical theater, and their individual expertise and talents came together, along with a supportive board of directors and staff, to form a collaboration that has weathered the difficulties of an economic downturn, as well as the challenges inherent in restoring a major landmark in downtown Delray Beach.
Keller was working as a producer, agent and manager with Keller-Monash Productions which he launched in 1996 after having been a stage manager and a triple theater major at Wayne State University. With numerous friends and contacts in the theater world, when Gillie approached him about putting together a Broadway/Cabaret Series at The Crest, it was a “great minds, thinking alike” moment.
Gillie was also trained as an actor and dancer and had performed in major regional and repertory companies throughout the United States. He played small roles, worked on stage sets in college and he received his M.A. in theater from Portland State University in Oregon. While working as an assistant stage manager, he appeared in a national tour of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas as a dancer alongside Tommy Tune. It was “a life changing experience,” says Gillie.
With solid credentials and an unwavering belief in the value and importance of live entertainment, these two pioneers set out to establish a subscription series at The Crest Theatre, one of four venues at the Arts Center. The series focused on well-known Broadway performers mixed in with nationally and internationally known cabaret stars. Still thriving today, the series starts its eighteenth season this January with Andrea McArdle, Sam Harris, Elaine Page and Linda Eder among the scheduled performers.
TV, Broadway and cabaret star Lucie Arnaz remembers her introduction to the “meticulously run, jewel box of a theater” and acknowledges that it was a “joy and a pleasure to perform in!” In fact, she quipped, “I’d go back anytime to be a part of either their Broadway or motivational lecture series…I loved it!”
Over the years, in addition to Ms. Arnaz, The Crest has presented a virtual “who’s who” of top-level performers from the Broadway and cabaret worlds, including the three who opened the series in 1995: Jeff Harnar; Karen Mason; Liz Callaway and Ann Hampton Callaway. Since then, Andrea Marcovicci, Chita Rivera, Tom Wopat and Sutton Foster have all delighted supportive, enthusiastic audiences and have been delighted themselves with the first rate accommodations, dressing room facilities, exceptional lighting and sound system, and an attention to detail that truly makes all the difference to the success of any venue.
Keller’s plans include a Florida based Cabaret Convention, co-produced with The Mable Mercer Foundation, and a Broadway Cabaret Master Class co-produced with The Crest Theatre that would target area high schools, university musical theater departments and Florida’s Equity, non-Equity and community theater performers to work with New York and Florida professional artists and musical directors.
With its superlative track record and creative hopes and dreams for the future, The Crest Theatre at The Delray Beach Center for the Arts at Old School Square is making an enormous contribution to the arts by helping to keep the Great American Songbook alive and well for generations to come.
Whether you’re a Florida resident, “snowbird” or simply a Broadway/cabaret aficionado who likes to travel to other venues, this upcoming season has a roster of stars to please everyone. The Crest Theatre has become a source of great pride for the whole Delray Beach community.