It’s curtains for Garbeau’s Theatre

Local live performance icon to shut its doors at end of May
By: Bridget Jones, Special to the Telegraph
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After 27 years, a local community staple in dinner theater is closing its doors. Garbeau’s Dinner Theatre on Folsom Boulevard in Rancho Cordova is set to close by May 31. Mark Ferreira, co-owner and chief executive officer, said in a meeting on April 2 his landlord stated he would not negotiate the terms of the business’s lease, including a possible reduction in rent, and has instead decided to close down operation of the dinner theater all together. “The landlord has agreed to let us walk away free and clear,” Ferreira said. “He’s giving us time to finish our final production as well as time to clear things out.” Ferreira, who, with co-owner Andrea Castel, re-opened Garbeau’s in June 2007, said the establishment experienced record-breaking revenue during his first year of direction. Then about a year ago when gas prices soared, times got tough as patrons began trying to conserve their gas. “When the energy crisis hit in March of ’08 we felt a direct impact,” Ferreira said. “It was immediate. Dinner theater is entirely leisure. People cut down on going to theater when money’s tight, and people cut down on going to restaurants when money’s tight. We’re both in one.” The dinner theater tried to balance out lowered revenue rates by reducing costs in several areas including reducing the price of shows. As the energy crisis turned into a full-fledged recession, Ferreira and Castel continued to try to negotiate rent rates with their landlord, Ferreira said. Toward the last months of 2008, Garbeau’s could no longer afford to pay rent on top of its operating costs, Ferreira said. “We were able to operate, and if we had a rent reduction we would have been fine,” he said. “But with that not happening, we stopped paying rent,” he said. “We do not think a tenant should be rent free, that’s unacceptable, but (currently) in the nation it’s common for landlords to give a 15 to 20 percent rent reduction.” While Garbeau’s still owes an undisclosed amount of back rent, it has been able to pay rent for February, March and April, including a $1,000 increase due to an adjustment in the lease. Ferreira said Washington-based landlord Andy Lakha has agreed to let him and Castel walk away if they don’t mention current rent amounts or the money that is owed from back rent. Although the dinner theater has had an increase in business over the last few months and has sold a large amount of season tickets through its “Save Garbeau’s” campaign, Ferreira said Lakha was more interested in recent business numbers, not the possibility that business could be on the rise. Ferreira said being forced to close is hard, but he still has hope for the future. “On one hand it’s sad that a community icon is going away, but based on the response from the community — we don’t expect it — but the room for a resurrection is there,” he said. “From now until we leave we’ll be celebrating the history of Garbeau’s and having fun. We know we did the best with what we had.” As promised, all those who purchased season tickets at Garbeau’s can have them honored during the 2009 season at various local theaters including Music Circus, B Street Theatre, Sacramento Theatre Company and more, Ferreira said. Amanda Ward, 18, of Orangevale, worked on and off stage in 11 productions at Garbeau’s from about 2003 to 2006, and was shocked to hear about the closure. “It just seems like it’s such a waste because it was a great part of the art community,” Ward said. “It just seems unreasonable. There’s a lot of theater in Sacramento, but that’s just such a nice area and for me it’s so close to home.” Ward said she has been impressed by Ferreira and Castel’s direction of Garbeau’s. “It’s really impressive what they’ve put together,” she said. “It’s a great place to do theater and go see theater. It’s very professional.” Victoria Goldblatt, a Sacramento resident, said she’s been going to shows at Garbeau’s for about 15 years. “I’ve gone there for a couple big birthday parties with a couple of my women friends,” Goldblatt said. “I always think of Garbeau’s as a wonderful evening out. It’s kind of a tradition I think. They have a combination of traditional musicals along with new shows. I think of Garbeau’s as unpredictable. I say it’s … for the general public, but it’s not mundane or boring so that someone like myself, whose been going for years, could get bored with it.” Goldblatt said Garbeau’s is similar to Old Sacramento in that it’s an iconic part of the local community. “It’s like tearing down Old Sac,” she said. “Old Sacramento – it’s a part of who we are. And I think of Garbeau’s … it’s a part of Sacramento community theater. And you tear that down – it’s like tearing down part of our history. If the community is lucky we’ll be able to see Garbeau’s opening up somewhere else in the future soon. We don’t want to lose Garbeau’s just because the location is no longer there.” Duane Johnson, a Carmichael resident who visited Garbeau’s frequently with his wife Linda, said the couple will miss the friendly atmosphere they always experienced at Garbeau’s. “The thing that I think we’ll miss the most is (demonstrated) through a phrase we used to tell our friends when we’d take them there: ‘I’ve never left that place without a smile on my face,’” Johnson said. “It just became a big family. You were always greeted at the door warmly.” Barbara Unverferth, a Placerville resident, said she is sad to see Garbeau’s close after the community tried so hard to keep it open. “The theater community really pulled together to help Garbeau’s stay in business, and it’s disappointing that after all the incredible fundraising they were able to do in such a short time, they weren’t able to survive,” Unverferth said. “I organized a benefit of young performers for Garbeau’s and when I asked students if they wanted to participate, the response was always a resounding ‘We love Garbeau’s and would love to help!’”   Garbeau’s final show, “There’s a Little Bit of Broadway in Everyone,” runs through May 10. The show is a collection of music from various Broadway productions. “Anyone who loves the music of Broadway will have a blast,” Ferreira said. Ferreira said he’s very grateful to everyone who helped make Garbeau’s what it was and who fought so hard to keep it open. “Our deepest gratitude to the entire community,” he said. Comment on your memories of Garbeau’s Dinner Theatre at and Bridget Jones can be reached at