An era of Austin theatre ends as Austin Musical Theatre files for bankruptcy.

Lights Out for AMT

The Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and Toto may have been able to save Dorothy, but they weren't enough to save the company that brought them to the Bass Concert Hall stage. Austin Musical Theatre, or Broadway Texas, as it has been known since January, had high hopes that its production of The Wizard of Oz, based on the MGM film version, would help the company resolve the financial problems that had been imperiling its existence for the past two years. But while the show did respectably in Austin, its run in San Antonio, where the company had toured the show in hopes of tapping a new audience for its big-budget Broadway-style musicals, failed to draw the business that would offset the production's $1.2 million cost, much less eliminate its outstanding debt. Still facing $300,000 worth of red ink, the board of directors opted to dissolve the company and filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy liquidation in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Austin this past Monday. Ron Ingalls has been retained as bankruptcy attorney.

Count this as one of the heaviest blows yet to fall on the Austin arts scene since the economy went south. Austin Musical Theatre was a company that brought something unique to the local arts scene. Founders Scott Thompson and Richard Byron delivered old-school American musicals on a scale and of a professionalism that had never been seen here before outside a touring production -- and in not that many of those. And incredibly, they delivered these shows -- slick, stylish, visually spectacular, kinetically captivating shows -- time after time after time. In all, 17 times over seven years, an impressive feat made all the more so when you consider how varied these shows were and how challenging. One small measure of the company's artistic success may be seen in the dozens of awards AMT's productions received, including the award for outstanding musical for seven shows: Peter Pan, Annie, West Side Story, Gypsy, Oklahoma!, My Fair Lady, and Sweet Charity. Perhaps a better measure can be found among the 5,000 young people who obtained musical training at AMT's academy. However you look at it, Austin Musical Theatre raised the bar for the way musicals were produced in this city.

It isn't hyperbole to say Austin won't see anything like AMT again. Production costs and tastes being what they are, touring productions of classic musicals, much less big-budget local productions, won't be coming our way anymore. And it's unlikely that musical-theatre artists with the professional background and experience of Byron and Thompson will land among us, either. AMT was, to quote the song from one of those 17 blockbuster shows, "a singular sensation." "She walks into a room and you know from her maddening poise, effortless whirl, she's a special girl. ... Oh, strut your stuff, can't get enough of her. Love her. She's the one."

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Bass Concert Hall, Austin Musical Theatre, Broadway Texas, Scott Thompson, Richard Byron, Ron Ingalls

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