A theatrical renaissance is under way along the Grand Strand for the first time in a decade, with two venues doing major renovations and two new theaters planned to open this year, operators and officials said.
The overall Myrtle Beach area theater industry is also improving, with business in 2011 expected to top 2010, according to representatives of area theaters. The changes are helping reinvigorate the motor coach tour market along the Grand Strand, said Danna Lilly, group sales director at the Myrtle Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Among the major changes slated for 2011: Legends in Concert is renovating the former Club Kryptonite, in preparation to move to Broadway at the Beach; Dixie Stampede will change its theme to Pirates Voyage; a theater named for musician Pat Boone plans to open; and a musical theater could move into Legends in Concert's former venue in Surfside Beach.
Tourists this year will have their choice of swashbuckling pirates, illusionists, jousting knights, country and pop stars and more on a given night.
"The market is making some great strides, not only the changes we're seeing, but the new Pat Boone Theater, the new Legends theater," said Stephen Greene, president and chief executive of the Myrtle Beach Area Hospitality Association. "It's a sign people are looking back to invest in this market."
The Grand Strand could see two new theaters in competition with existing venues in 2011.
The former Legends in Concert building in Surfside Beach will house a new project, Celebration Music Theatre. Organizers behind that theater could not be reached for comment last week.
More is known about the Pat Boone Family Theater, which plans to open this spring at the intersection of U.S. 17 Bypass and 21st Avenue North in Myrtle Beach. Illusionist Morgan Strebler, formerly of Las Vegas, will have a resident magic act performing about 500 shows in the first year. Other acts will mostly be musicians booked with Boone's assistance.
Some, including Calvin Gilmore of The Carolina Opry, have expressed skepticism that the Pat Boone theater will open.
"Last year, they said they were going to do something like this and never did do it, so I don't know whether it's going to happen or not," Gilmore said.
The project is still on track to open by May, said Glenn Milligan, CEO of Liquid Metal Holdings LLC. The theater has yet to sign a lease for the proposed location in the former NASCAR Cafe or file for building permits, Milligan said.
Liquid Metal has already looked over the final lease agreement and Burroughs & Chapin Co. Inc., which owns the property, is reviewing it, Milligan said. B&C declined to comment on the pending contractual matter.
The theater had been put on hold while waiting for the economy to improve, Milligan said.
Gilmore said he's not concerned about increased competition from new theaters. About 10 years ago, there were many more theaters than there are now, even if you include the proposed Pat Boone theater, Gilmore said.
The area occupied by the shuttered Freestyle Music Park formerly housed four theaters that closed in the late '90s or early 2000s. That marked the last peak in the number of theaters, Greene said, and this year's new theaters indicate a rebound.
Pat Boone's venue or other theaters are no more of a threat to the Carolina Opry's business than any other attraction, Gilmore said.
"Everything is competition," Gilmore said. "It's just a matter of how many dollars people have and whether they want to spend it at the aquarium or the Ferris wheel or a theater."
More theaters and attractions can only help draw more people to the area, said Sabrina Israel, marketing director for The Palace Theatre at Broadway at the Beach.
"There's 14 million people who come here [each year]. There's definitely enough to spread around to all the different theaters," Israel said.
Changes to theaters
A construction crew had finished gutting the interior of the former Club Kryptonite building last week in preparation for reopening it in March as the new venue for Legends in Concert. Renovations are on track for the planned March opening, Chris Beattie, regional general manager for Legends, said while touring the property Wednesday.
Legends had operated in Surfside Beach for 15 years before announcing in September that the theater would move to Myrtle Beach. The theater's close proximity to Broadway at the Beach's other shops and bars will bring in more business than the theater had in Surfside Beach, a representative of the theater said at the time.
The new location and improving economy should make 2011 a better year for business than 2010, Beattie said.
Renovation is also under way to turn Dixie Stampede into Pirates Voyage, and the newly themed show will begin in June, said Larry McCoy, director of marketing.
The Palace Theatre will tweak its lineup and add a new resident show called "Hurray for Hollywood," Israel said. The theater changes its shows slightly each year to attract return visitors, she said.
The Gilmore theater will keep its shows, "The Carolina Opry" and "Good Vibrations," with some new performers, Gilmore said.
Representatives of the Alabama Theatre at Barefoot Landing in North Myrtle Beach and Medieval Times in Myrtle Beach could not be reached for comment last week.
Motor coach travelers
The changes to the theaters will help attract return visitors, particularly motor coach tourists, Lilly said. More than 65 percent or 70 percent of motor coach visitors go to a show during their stay along the Grand Strand, she said.
"The theaters are the reason these coaches started coming to Myrtle Beach in the first place," Lilly said.
Lilly said representatives from the Myrtle Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau used the changes at area theaters to pitch Myrtle Beach to tour operators at the American Bus Association's Marketplace and Product Pavilion conference last week. Dawn Formo, director of group sales at The Palace Theatre, also attended the conference.
"We were kind of selling Myrtle Beach as a new destination because of the new things going on," Formo said.
Motor coach travelers are a large part of The Palace's audience with as many as 10 buses a day stopping to see shows in peak season, Formo said.
Gilmore said the motor coach business has declined at The Carolina Opry from what it was four or five years ago. Regardless of the mode of transportation, Gilmore said he expects theaters to continue to attract visitors.
"People want to forget about their troubles. They want to be entertained and be lifted up," Gilmore said.