VenuWorks Puts On A Show

Theatricals arm takes "Noel" to 15 venues, seven run by building manager

  • by Don Muret
  • Published: January 16, 2019

The VenuWorks Theatricals production of "Noel: The Musical" played a 21-date tour running up to the holidays. (Courtesy VenuWorks Theatricals)

Facility management veteran Steve Peters has immersed himself in the business of live theater.

VenuWorks Theatricals, a spinoff of VenuWorks, the Iowa-based building management firm that Peters owns, recently completed a run of “Noel: The Musical,” its first touring production in the three years since Peters formed the subsidiary.

The 21-date tour, which ran Nov. 17 through Dec. 17, played seven theaters run by VenuWorks among the 15 total venues, including the Rialto Square Theatre in Joliet, Ill.; Topeka (Kan.) Performing Arts Center; and Stephens Auditorium in Ames, Iowa, which is part of Iowa State University’s campus.

The theatrical group essentially serves as another content provider for the dozen theaters VenuWorks operates, spanning 500 to 2,700 seats. All told, the facility management firm runs 40 arenas, theaters, convention centers and outdoor venues, most in secondary markets across the Midwest.

InHouse Booking, a New York agency, routed the tour. Jam Theatricals of Chicago booked the musical for five dates at the Pioneer Center in Reno, Nev., a historic 1,500-seat performing arts center, the longest run of the tour.

Peters formed VenuWorks Theatricals in January 2016 in a partnership with Michael Londra, a Broadway performer from Ireland whose own show, Michael Londra and the Celtic Fire, has toured the world. Londra, originally from Wexford, Ireland, a seaside village situated in the country’s southeast corner, originally came to the U.S. as the voice of “Riverdance” as a tenor and narrator, according to Peters.

Peters first met Londra through some friends in Ames, where Londra now lives. Peters and Londra started talking, clicked right away and decided to go in business together with VenuWorks Theatricals.

“I had an interest in being involved in theatrical production and thinking about how we can create more product for our own theaters,” Peters said. “I had already done some investing in New York in shows. I was co-producer on ‘You Can’t Take It With You’ with James Earl Jones. That show played in the fall of 2014 and was Tony-nominated for best revival. That’s sort of where it all started.”

“Noel: The Musical,” was written by best-selling author Eoin Colfer, whose Artemis Fowl book character has been turned into a Disney movie scheduled for release in August. “Noel” is the story of a young girl who is preparing for her first starring role in her school’s Christmas play when her mother suddenly disappears. In her effort to find Mom, she encounters a rogue cast of characters who together must discover the magic of Christmas.

The production originated in Ireland. Shortly after they launched VenuWorks Theatricals, Peters traveled overseas with Londra and saw a few “Noel” songs performed at the National Opera House in Wexford, which is part of a circuit for major opera festivals in Europe. At the time, there was no script, but Peters felt he had something solid to work with to develop a touring show for his new company.

Two years ago, the group produced a concert version of “Noel” at the opera house with a large orchestra and a 32-voice chorus, with actors hired to perform in front of the stage. It was well received and a week’s worth of performances sold out, Peters said.

“We took it from there,” he said.

After script revisions, a cast was hired after auditions in New York and Minneapolis. The show’s director, Sam Scalamoni, has directed “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” as well as the touring production of “Elf.” Choreographer Charlie Sutton is a performer in “Kinky Boots,” another theatrical show.

Then came two weeks of rehearsals in New York, before “Noel: The Musical” debuted Nov. 17, the first of three performances at Ames Center in Burnsville, Minn., a south suburb of Minneapolis-St. Paul and a VenuWorks account.

For VenuWorks buildings in Ames, Cedar Rapids and Davenport, Iowa, the show is part of a subscription series. Ticket prices run $25 to $55 for stand-alone events, which are a “little tougher sell,” Peters said, “but it’s meeting our expectations and we’re happy with what we’re seeing.”

“The curse of doing a holiday show is you only have about five weeks a year to do it,” he said. “The good part is you can bring it back every year. We anticipate doing that for several years. We hope to have a European tour in 2020. We’re visiting with several people over there about putting together for the U.K. and Germany.”

In addition to “Noel,” the group is developing “JFK & Me” and “Ellis Island,” two new productions revolving around the American songbook and families arriving in the U.S. “JFK & Me,” with Londra performing with his band, is expected to tour in 2019, Peters said.

Producing theater is not cheap. For VenuWorks Theatricals, the total investment behind “Noel: The Musical” is approaching seven figures, Peters said. He’s worked in facility management for 43 years, but running a live theater division has opened his eyes for what it takes to operate that piece of the entertainment business.

“I’m like the basketball fan that goes to all the games and says, ‘Heck, I can coach,” Peters said.  “Hey, I run theaters, so I can produce. Well, it isn’t that easy. It’s all the same things we do [as venue managers] but coming from the other direction, whether it’s production management, contracting for set construction, casting for artists and working as a provider through an agency instead of buying shows. It’s been a real learning process.”

  • by Don Muret
  • Published: January 16, 2019