The most compelling story in local theater belies the aphorism that “you can’t go home again.” Andrew Kato did just that in 2005, assuming the reins of the struggling, then-3-year-old Maltz Jupiter Theatre and reforming it as the region’s gold standard for Broadway classics.
The son of a puppeteer, Kato, 47, moved to Jupiter from his native New Jersey as a teenager. Cutting his theatrical teeth at the Burt Reynolds Dinner Theatre (now the Maltz location), he eventually migrated to Broadway, where he became a writer and producer, specializing in one-night-only extravaganzas. He also became a creative consultant for the Tony Awards, which he has produced for the past seven years.
Since taking over as artistic director at the 554-seat Maltz, Kato has helped to turn north Palm Beach County into an oasis of culture by luring top talent from New York and playing to constantly sold-out audiences. His team’s tireless efforts were rewarded at this year’s Carbonell Awards; no regional theater in South Florida claimed more honors than the Maltz.
Where other notable theaters in Palm Beach County have collapsed, Maltz’s largesse has ballooned, with nearly $2 million in annual donations and a record-breaking 7,350 subscribers set to attend its 10th anniversary season, which just began with “Amadeus.”
You manage to sell out entire runs of shows that audiences have often seen time and again (such as “La Cage Aux Folles” and “The Sound of Music”). Why do you think that is?
I think, for one, we do it differently. Audiences have learned the lesson that we’re not looking to duplicate the Broadway production, in most cases. And also the quality and intimacy ... you’re seeing a quality show, well produced, up-close, and with talented people.
Have you encountered any resistance to doing nonmusical theater, such as last season’s “Red?”
Of course. For “Doubt,” (running Feb. 5–17), people are writing on their subscription forms “not appropriate subject matter.” But for every person that opts out on that show, we get a single-ticket buyer who wants more of that.
What kind of strategy goes into selections for a season?
Diversity. The way I say it, without sounding like Forrest Gump, is that it’s like a box of chocolates. You could bite into one of those chocolates, and it [might not be] your favorite. But it still has to be good. If two out of three are OK, then I’m not doing my job.
Because of the location of your theater, do you feel somewhat disconnected from the South Florida theater scene?
A little bit. It’s not their job to accept us; it’s my job to be part of a community. My frustration with the South Florida acting community is that they have accused us of not hiring them, but they don’t come to our auditions. You can bet your bottom dollar that if I know someone’s work, that I would rather have a South Florida person.
Do you have an all-time favorite show?
I have a few. Not the movie, but Michael Bennett’s original work on “Dreamgirls,” because of the integration of the scenic elements with the storyline. And I love “Sweeney Todd.” For plays, the ones you see at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre are the ones I love. I knew as soon as I saw “Red” that it would be on our stage. There are just days you sit in a theater that changes your world. That’s my hope in creating or writing anything, is that you change the way the world sees things.