Alex scores break-even victory

The Alex Theatre has been given one of the most challenging roles to play in the arts these days — holding steady as the economy stumbles.

"We pretty much broke even for the year," said Barry McComb, executive director of Glendale Arts, which oversees the 1,500-seat Art Deco landmark on Brand Boulevard. "That's a remarkable feat."

The organization is still putting together final figures for the fiscal year that runs July 1 to June 30, but with an annual budget of $1.6 million, it is likely to wind up $1,000 or $2,000 "on either side" of even, he added.

And this in a year when many venues struggled to fill seats and hosted fewer performances.

Some recent winners for the Alex included British comedian and actor John Cleese, rock singer Joan Osborne, the Peking Acrobats, the L.A. Ballet and Armenian comedian Kev Orkian.

Next year is showing signs of promise, McComb said. More acts are seeking dates at the Alex, and the theater completed a market study to ensure greater success with shows promoted by Glendale Arts.

"We are seeing an uptick in activity on our calendar," McComb said. "We've gotten better at choosing what we are going to present."

Upcoming shows promoted by Glendale Arts include a performance by Lorna Luft, who on Sept. 16 will perform a tribute to her mother, screen and song legend Judy Garland; and Elliott Yamin, an "American Idol" discovery who will do a Dec. 8 show following up on his popular releases of Christmas songs.

City Councilwoman Laura Friedman said the Alex, which received about $400,000 in city redevelopment funds last year, is "a beloved cultural resource in Glendale," and credited Glendale Arts in improving the Alex's capacity for filming.

At noon today, the theater is scheduled to host the latest taping of Last Comic Standing for NBC, a booking that has boosted the venue's bottom line.

Two blocks away at the Glendale Centre Theater, managers say they have made adjustments to keep a vigorous schedule of performances in place.

Glendale Centre Executive Producer Tim Dietlein said audience rates are down by 15% to 20% from pre-recession figures, and next season the theater will eliminate Sunday matinees.

"Audiences are down, no question about it," Dietlein said. "But the length of runs is not changing. The American theater is a deep-rooted part of our culture, and we still have good support of our local patrons."

The slate of shows for next season is full, including the musical comedy "Forever Plaid" throughout January, and in February the drama "To Kill a Mockingbird," which last month marked the 50th anniversary of the publication of Harper Lee's landmark novel.

"We couldn't have timed it better," Dietlein said. "And we didn't pick it with that in mind."

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