Annapolis theater shuts as June is bustin' out all over 'Oklahoma!' cast, patrons stunned


ANNAPOLIS -- A popular dinner theater near here shut down without warning last night, leaving ticket-holders stranded and a non-profit counseling agency -- which had planned to use the night's performance as a fund-raiser -- out of $2,595.

News of the unexpected closing of the Annapolis Dinner Theater had already spread among the 20 employees and other actors and stage-hands who had put on a sold-out show of "Oklahoma!" Thursday night and suddenly had no place to perform. The theater is beside U.S. 50 between Annapolis and the Bay Bridge.

Many stood outside the locked doors last night, wondering what would become of their belongings still inside as they told puzzled theatergoers the bad news.

"It is like somebody died," said Linda Kahl, the music director for the current production. "It was so nice to work there. It is just devastating. There needs to be a funeral."

Some of the actors and other workers discovered the theater was closed when they showed up for a morning rehearsal and couldn't get in. The theater filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection June 1.

Mrs. Kahl said there was a note addressed to the chef under the door that read: "Sorry it had to end up this way. Checks are in the bankruptcy court."

Staff members said that Robert J. Chew, who ran the day-to-day business operations, was making plans to reorganize. Mr. Chew, who lives in Gambrills, could not be reached for comment.

The 272-seat theater, which opened three years ago, is saddled with more than $172,000 in debt, according to court papers filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

Last night, Roland Chambers, who had directed all the productions,stood outside the theater and printed a sign, directing people to call Mr. Chew or his attorney.

He said he was worried about a group of 20 Annapolis-area children who had each paid $600 to participate in a summer camp to learn about the acting business.

The first day of the camp was to be Monday, he said, and all their names and telephone numbers were locked inside the building. "There is no way to even call them," Mr. Chambers said.

Also present last night was a group of 25 Westinghouse employees and their friends and family members. They had each paid $22 for tickets. "This is unbelievable," said Gerry Johnson of Cape St. Claire.

"Now what do we do?" asked Lori Sweely of Annapolis. "We're all dressed up with no place to go."

But possibly the hardest-hit group was Bethany Christian Services, a non-profit pregnancy and adoption counseling organization with its Maryland offices in Crofton.

The agency bought 52 tickets at nearly $22 each and resold all of them for $30, said Phyllis Lee, the group's Maryland director. She said she sent the theater two checks, one for $835 in February and one for $200 just four days after the bankruptcy proceeding was filed.

Both checks were cashed, and Mrs. Lee is doubtful of ever seeing the money. "I don't think we will have much luck," she said. "We willtry."

She said her organization will try to refund all of the $1,560 paid by the ticket purchasers.

"This is very depressing," said Mrs. Lee, who learned the play was canceled just four hours before show time. "I don't know how we are going to get the money to pay everybody."

Mrs. Lee said she had read newspaper articles about the theater filing for bankruptcy, but noted the reports had added that the theater company had no plans to close.

"That's why we didn't worry about it," she said.

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