Smash-hit musical puts theatre back on its feet

A sell-out smash-hit summer musical has helped secure the financial future of Cork Opera House for the first time in almost two years.

The theatre’s chief executive Mary Hickson said Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music — which played to around 25,000 people over the last three and a half weeks — was a major watershed in the theatre’s journey towards financial viability.

“The Sound of Music secures our financial future for this year,” said Ms Hickson.

“It has helped us turn a corner. But this is a big ship to turn around. We can’t believe we’re fixed. Once we do that, we’re in trouble again.”

The city centre venue was gripped by a financial crisis in 2010 after recording a deficit of just under €300,000.

In May 2010, Cork City Council, the theatre’s largest shareholder, sanctioned a €1m interest-free loan.

But a week later, the theatre announced an enforced summer closure as part of a radical survival plan.

Following a review, it adopted a three-year business plan which cut €500,000 from its €3.5m annual budget. Staff took wage cuts and there were several redundancies.

The council subsequently extended its €1m loan by a further €250,000.

It has also written off an €800,000 loan by converting it to grant aid, and guaranteed a €1.5m bank loan.

The theatre remained open last summer and staged Blood Brothers, but gambled big with its summer production of The Sound of Music this year.

The audience figures suggest the gamble paid off.

The sell-out show, starring Carol-Ann Ryan as Maria, Michael Sands as Captain Von Trapp, Linda Kenny as Elsa, Trevor Ryan as Max, and soprano Cara O’Sullivan as Mother Abbess, was performed seven times a week over the run to just under 25,000 people.

Booking office statistics reveal that 30% of the audience was from outside Cork City, with 22% recorded as first-time Opera House goers.

There was also a huge spin-off for local bars and restaurants.

The Sound of Music will be staged again next February with 11 performances timed to coincide with schools’ mid-term breaks.

Ms Hickson said the success of the show proves there is a demand in Cork for a home-grown summer musical, and planning is already underway for next summer’s production.

The Opera House will hold its AGM next week. While the venue is expected to post another deficit, there is expected to be some good news in the accounts, with increased funding from the arts council and a new €174,000 grant for a new opera next year.

“There is a plan in place to set us on a firm footing,” Ms Hickson said.

“We need to secure other funding, from sources other than the city council and the arts council.

“And we need to attract corporate business partners.

“There is an awful lot of work to do but without the public investing in us, we don’t have a future.”


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