A company linked to Jack Utsick’s Worldwide Entertainment, which is now in receivership as part of a settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission, has pulled the plug on a subscription theatrical series at Baltimore’s Lyric Opera House, leaving ticketholders high and dry and the venue dark.
Four of five shows originally booked by Performing Arts Productions, which is part of Baci Entertainment, have been canceled including Elton John’s "Aida." Patrons are scrambling to get refunds – some more successfully than others – and the Lyric’s management is trying to stanch losses, according to the Baltimore Sun.
"We’ve worked with Performing Arts for many years, and they’ve had a very successful season at the Lyric with a variety of large-scale Broadway-style productions," Lyric executive director Sandy Richmond told the paper, adding that the Lyric would at least offer credit for future productions.
But what Richmond and subscribers want from Performing Arts are full refunds.
The 2,500-capacity Lyric Opera House is operated by the nonprofit Lyric Foundation. The lost Broadway series represents as much as 10 percent of the venue’s schedule. In addition to the lost income, the venue has not been able to recoup costs it had already incurred to book the now-aborted series.
"Aida" alone represented "hundreds of thousands in potential sales," Richmond told the Sun.
Court records dug up by the newspaper revealed more than 30 lawsuits – a number for unpaid bills – brought against Baci principal Nicholas Litrenta and his companies over the last five years.
A 2006 case filed by a company that granted Baci a loan resulted in a judgment of more than $300,000 against Litrenta and Baci. It’s not clear, however, that this is related to the Worldwide Entertainment imbroglio.
Worldwide Entertainment and Baci Management, based in Towson, Md., each own 50 percent of Baci Entertainment. The receiver in the SEC’s settlement with WE reported in a July 2006 court filing that Baci lost approximately $1 million in 2004 and was showing a loss in the first three quarters of 2005.
Litrenta is cited in the documents saying the cost of promoting theatrical shows had doubled in the past 10 years and the current available product is "top heavy" and limited.
At the time of the report, Baci and Litrenta owed Worldwide Entertainment $100,000 on co-promotes outside of the subscription markets. The markets in which Baci operates subscription series are Baltimore, Detroit, D.C.; and Norfolk and Richmond, Va.
The Lyric brought a suit against Baci Entertainment in 2003 for more than $200,000 in unpaid bills but eventually settled for an undisclosed amount, according to the paper.
Five shows that Baci was to have presented at the Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C., operated by Live Nation, have also reportedly been canceled this season. A Baci Entertainment-booked run of "Aida" went on as announced at Richmond’s city-run Landmark Theatre, but a spokesman for the mayor’s office told the Sun that many others did not.
Performing Arts subscribers have had mixed results recouping their subscription losses. Ricky Wiles, a new subscriber, told the Sun he paid $351.25 for box seats and was promised a full refund on his credit card account in January that didn’t happen. He is owed an additional $189.75 for refunds on other cancellations.
But Rich Widener, a 10-year subscriber to the Performing Arts series, was more fortunate. He received a full refund of $400 for his two subscriptions by taking his beef to a local television station, according to the paper.
Litrenta could not be reached by Pollstar for comment.
In the meantime, the Lyric has partnered with Magic Arts & Entertainement to schedule "Jesus Christ Superstar" in May, after a run of "Lord of the Dance" was canceled, reportedly because of low ticket sales.