In 2012, the Historic Fox Theatre board of directors made a gamble.
With a fresh group of volunteers and a new vision, they announced a plan to renovate the historic theater and make it a centerpiece in downtown Newton. They hosted an "under construction" concert series to gauge public interest in a revitalized Fox. The first tickets were given away for free, with a gradual increase in ticket prices for each show. Attendance kept going up, culminating in a sold-out "Cherish the Ladies" show in December.
"We felt like (during) our test run, the Newton and Wichita communities told us there is a market for this," said Barb Burns, who is helping with the Fox renovation effort.
Inspired by last year's success, the Fox already has started making electrical and plumbing repairs and has announced a new series of concerts for 2013. Board member Barth Hague anticipates the repairs will be finished by the end of April, and the first concert of the year will be in May.
"It's going to be a fairly action-packed year," Hague said. "... There are going to be some good things happening at the Fox."
"We're fighting time on this, but it will be exciting," Burns agreed. "We want to get going again."
A work in progress
The Fox board continues to look for creative ways to raise money for the theater. They were able to receive a SCKEDD loan (South Central Kansas Economic Development District) to start repairs and are also hosting a "dueling pianos" fund-raiser.
The "Rock for the Fox" event will be 6:30 p.m. April 20 at the Meridian Center and will feature dueling pianos playing music from the 60's, 70's and 80's. The musicians will take requests. Burgers and fries will be served, along with old-fashioned ice cream sundaes from Freddy's and a cash bar. Cost for the tickets is $60, which includes a $25 tax-deductible donation. Tickets are available at www.selectaseat.com, and through South Dillons in Newton, Midland National Bank and Fox board members.
Although the current repair work will help the Fox to keep operating in the short-term, the board's long-range goal is to completely remodel the theater, taking it back to the 1950s era. This plan includes improved ADA access, an enhanced stage area, and an improved lobby and concession stand. It will take a sizable amount of money, but Burns said she believes the project is worth it.
She said once a historical landmark is lost, a community can't get it back.
"We simply can't lose this in Newton," she said. "Main Street deserves the energy a renovated Fox will bring."
Folk, country, bluegrass and big band music will help kick off the 2013 concert series at the Historic Fox Theatre in Newton.
• Martin Sexton, part of the "new folk" acoustic music scene, will start the concert series at 8 p.m. May 11. He is a guitarist, singer and songwriter.
• On May 19, popular folk artist John McCutcheon will visit the Fox Theatre stage at 6:30 p.m. McCutcheon is famous for his mastery of traditional American music, and he is internationally known for his use of the guitar, hammered dulcimer and other instruments.
• The Glenn Miller Orchestra will bring its classic jazz sound to Newton with two shows at the Fox Theatre on July 20 at 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. The orchestra is one the most sought-after big bands in the world for both concert and swing dance arrangements.
• Fresh off a tour of Belgium, Canadian fiddler and step dancer April Verch will perform at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 7. Both a singer and fiddler, Verch draws from a variety of musical traditions, including blues, Latin music, Eastern European music, jazz and Americana.
• Grammy award-winning country artist Kathy Mattea will perform two shows on Oct. 6 at 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Best known for songs like “Goin’ Gone” and “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses,” Mattea is a repeat winner of the County Music Association’s "Female Vocalist of the Year" award.
Hague said this list represents about half the concerts the Fox plans to host this year. Others will be announced at a later date.
Tickets for Fox Theatre events can be purchased through Select-A-Seat outlets, including Newton’s South Dillons location, through Select-A-Seat’s website, www.selectaseat.com, or toll-free telephone number, (855) 755-SEAT.
For more information about the Fox Theatre and its 2013 concert lineup, visit www.foxnewton.com.