Monday, Sept. 10, 2012, Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office deputies changed the locks at Golden Apple Dinner Theatre. Former theater owners, the Turoffs, were evicted from 25 N. Pineapple Ave. after years of financial struggle. But, with the new year came a new name — and three new partners who now own the keys to “Golden Apple Celebrity Theatre.”
In December, it was announced that the historic dinner-theater’s doors would re-open Jan. 1 as the Golden Apple Celebrity Theatre, for the production of “Viagra Falls” — thanks to new owners Stanley Browne, John Finocchio and Robert Nederlander Jr. The three theater-producing veterans are working closely with Robert Turoff, who has taken on the role of operator/general manager.
When Browne and Finocchio first spoke with Turoff, a few months before the eviction, the conversation was to close a deal to bring “Viagra Falls” to the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre.
“We had no idea the theater needed saving until the last minute, when we were called and they told us (they) had a lockout and were in over (their) heads,” Browne said from his New York City home.
Browne and Finocchio both live part-time in Sarasota and were the original presenters of the Off-Broadway production of “Viagra Falls.”
The Nederlander name is tied to a successful theater-dynasty family that operates nine Broadway theaters and about 20 other venues around the country. But the Golden Apple is not a Nederlander family project; it’s a collaboration among Browne, Nederlander and Finocchio.
Robert Nederlander Jr. is founder and President/CEO of Nederlander Worldwide Entertainment that operates productions across the nation and in China. For the past 12 years, Browne and Nederlander Jr. have produced, partnered and sponsored Broadway and Off-Broadway productions.
Eight years ago, Nederlander Jr. and Browne began taking steps to open a Broadway theater in Sarasota, but two potential deals collapsed: one with The Players Theatre and another with the failed The Proscenium real-estate project, which included a performing-arts center. They put their theater plans on the back burner.
Although, taking over the Golden Apple wasn’t what the two men had in mind when they made a deal for “Viagra Falls.” However, buying into the theater would work as a platform for their play, as a way to save a Sarasota cultural landmark and an opportunity to open the kind of theater Browne and Nederlander had envisioned eight years ago.
Browne plans to keep the doors open for the newly named Golden Apple Celebrity Theatre by way of a half-dozen new shows, cabaret programming, international entertainers and minor cosmetic updates.
“We’re not going to have an off season,” Browne explains. “We’re going to be the place to come for quality theatrical entertainment, as well as cabaret, 12 months a year.”
The cabaret night will be based on piano bars, such as Don’t Tell Mama, in New York City, and will start at the end of January. There are also plans for a to-be-announced show before February.
Browne explained that the new Golden Apple Celebrity Theatre will act as a “farm team for Broadway.”
“(It) will be a place for artists and authors to express themselves, have an audience and see if (their production) will ring,” he says.
Browne believes Sarasota is a community conducive to the shows that could potentially be seen on Broadway because of how supportive it is of the arts.
“Sarasota’s character has always been that of an art population, which makes it clear why we wanted to open up a theater in the first place,” Browne says.