After decades of running movie theaters on the Cape and Islands, Bill Hanney finally is pursuing his true passion — live theater — closer to home.
Hanney, a part-time Brewster resident, will this summer bring performers from Broadway, television and film, including Lesley Ann Warren and “housewives” of reality TV, to Hyannis for a series of five one-night music and dance events. He has created a new production company, Bill Hanney’s CapeLive Concert Series, and the shows are the first step of a plan to move his live-theater interests to this side of the Cape Cod Canal.
Hanney wants to stage large-scale Broadway musicals here, too, like those he produces to often sellout crowds at two theaters he owns off-Cape. He’s already planned a two-week run of “Mamma Mia!” for summer 2020 in Hyannis and may stage a second show.
“I’ve always wanted to bring shows to the Cape — that’s where I live,” he said in a phone interview, and laughed. “I’m going to bring shows to where I live, and I’m going to watch them.”
Celebrities due to appear in July and August at Barnstable High School Performing Arts Center include Warren (Oscar-nominated for “Victor/Victoria,” with her many TV appearances including 1965′s “Cinderella”); members of “Real Housewives” reality-TV casts, including Teresa Guidice and Margaret Josephs; actors with numerous Broadway credits, including the longest-running star of “Mamma Mia!”; singer Sandy Hackett (son of Buddy Hackett) in a Rat Pack variety show; top doo-wop performers, including Shirley Reeves, original lead singer of the Shirelles; and dancers from TV’s “So You Think You Can Dance” and “Dancing With the Stars.” (see lineup below)
Hanney owns seven movie complexes in four states, including Entertainment Cinemas in Dennis, Falmouth and Edgartown. Long an enthusiastic audience member and producer of live theater, though, he also has, over the past 12 years, reopened and rehabilitated the seasonal 1,500-seat North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly and the 500-seat Theatre by the Sea (with restaurant) in Matunuck, Rhode Island.
Audiences for his shows, he reported, have grown to an average season attendance last year of 98 percent of the house in Rhode Island and 83 percent at the much larger North Shore venue.
He’s using that success to launch the Cape concert series, with an estimated 100,000 people he can reach by email through his other theaters, by setting up phone lines at those venues for Cape ticket sales and by adding the Cape shows to his Boston advertising to reach tourists.
Hanney has long wanted a live-theater presence on the Cape to create a multi-theater circuit to move his musicals from place to place. He pursued taking over management and rehabilitation of the Cape Playhouse in Dennis as it struggled in recent years with financial troubles and multiple changes of leadership, but the board of directors, he said, wasn’t interested.
So, for now, that third home for Hanney is the 1,400-seat theater at Barnstable High. “It’s a nice theater, a perfect theater to put a show in,” he said. “All the infrastructure is there” for a large production, including a pit for his live orchestras, though he plans to bring in hundreds of extra pieces of lighting and sound equipment.
With this concert series, Hanney is adding new competition for tourist and resident entertainment dollars in the already busy Cape summer theater scene as well as with the Cape Cod Melody Tent, just a three-minute (he timed it) drive away. When he brings in large-scale musicals with professional casts next year, the closest venue offering that same type and caliber of entertainment will be Cape Playhouse, 11 miles from BHS.
Hanney shrugs off comparisons, though. “We’re offering something kind of different than anyone else is offering,” he said of this year’s lineup, including dance shows that are rare on the Cape and audience Q&A sessions with reality TV stars and Broadway performers.
He said any Broadway musicals he brings in the future will stand out in other ways.
“There’s a lot of terrific local theater here, with local talent, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But they’re all small. It’s the same in Rhode Island; there are little theaters, then there’s Theatre by the Sea and PPAC (Providence Performing Arts Center).” Hanney said his company spent $300,000 to put “Mamma Mia!” on the Rhode Island stage — “Wait until you see the sets!” — and that no other Cape theater spends that kind of money on a show. It’s that successful production from last year that he plans to remount in 2020 in Hyannis, after it sold out five weeks at Theatre by the Sea and also sold well at North Shore.
“We know it’s a hit,” Hanney said. “The production is terrific.”
The shows he’s bringing to Hyannis this year already have proven to be big draws, too, he said. “Harvey Robbins’ Doo-Wopp Hall of Fame of America” has played to enthusiastic crowds at both of his other theaters, he said, while a show similar to “Broadway Spotlight” sold out in advance last year at Theatre by the Sea, and “Dance To the Movies” last year “sold terrifically” at North Shore.
And Hackett’s show of songs by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and others was scheduled last year for early in the season at Theatre by the Sea, so Hanney had only modest expectations. “This thing went insane,” though, he said. “You couldn’t get a ticket in that theater. I brought it back at the end of the season for an encore, and the shows sold out.”
His idea for creating the Hyannis series started with just two shows, but built to five. “I guess it’s ‘go big or go home,’” he said with a laugh.
Hanney has been in show business for decades, owning various movie theaters, booking rock shows and other types of entertainment, then producing national tours of Broadway shows in the 1990s before owning his own theaters. For his movie theaters, since 2009, he’s been president of the two-dozen-member Theater Owners of New England. He’s also a member of the League of Broadway Producers.
Now adding to his professional presence on Cape Cod as well as his personal one, Hanney has joined the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce and is looking for ways to get more involved in the community as he feels out the local business climate.
— Follow Kathi Scrizzi Driscoll on Twitter: @KathiSDCCT.