It has been an institution in the New Hope arts scene for decades, the go-to theater for musicals, children’s theater — and the annual audience participation Halloween event, “Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Now Bucks County Playhouse is looking at the very real possibility that this old theater will never see another show.
When owner Ralph Miller, who has been owner/producer of the playhouse for 35 years, was found in default of about $2.2 million in mortgages, his bank, Stonebridge Bank of Exton, PA, started looking for a buyer.
While there are no takers standing front and center, there are two parties interested in keeping the theater open. After unsuccessfuly finding backers to buy the property, producer Howard Perloff, known for the mega-hit “Tony and Tina’s Wedding,” is now attempting to form a management and production company comprising his own contacts and associates.
Perloff, who lives in the New Hope area, hopes to keep the artistic vision of the theater much as it is now, with a combination of staged productions and classes.
On Monday, December 13, Janet Nitka, senior VP of Stonebridge Bank, reached by phone at the bank’s Warminster office, stated that the bank was unable to comment.
In an open letter to the media on Wednesday, December 8, Miller announced the end of his tenure and gave details about the mortgage issues with Stonebridge Bank, excerpted below:
“Unfortunately, the pressures of this recession and our mortgage lender have taken the drive from me that is needed to keep the playhouse operating. Stonebridge Bank refinanced the playhouse in the summer of 2008 right before the stock market crash, which in turn, triggered the current recession. Although Stonebridge executives provided me with a $200,000 unsecured loan to accept their mortgage commitment and cancel my pending closing with PBB Bank, relations quickly turned negative as the cash flow of the playhouse dramatically changed as seniors lost their retirement savings in the market.
“During the next 18 months, the playhouse’s staff and I were able to cut costs, add children’s programming, and bring the playhouse finances back where the monthly mortgage obligations were being met. Unfortunately during the past two-and-a-half years Stonebridge’s financial statements have shown substantial losses and, as a result, Stonebridge has aggressively and, in my opinion, unfairly targeted the playhouse in an effort to satisfy federal bank examiners. In fact Stonebridge was able to borrow $11 million in taxpayer TARP funds and has yet to return any of those funds to the treasury.
“There are a few events between Stonebridge and myself that are important to set the record straight. In May, 2010, and after five months of mortgage payments to Stonebridge, Stonebridge sent a monthly loan payment statement that was three times the amount due on my loan. This inaccurate statement caused the lawyers for the playhouse and the bank to get involved in the monthly payment and the bank’s counsel, according to my lawyer, directed me to send the correct payment amount to him so it could be forwarded to the bank’s lawyer. The payment was sent as directed but the payment was seven days late and two days beyond the grace period. The bank used this maneuver to claim the payment in default and asked the court to allow them to foreclose on my loan. The court never heard from either lawyer regarding their redirection of the payment or saw the incorrect statement before allowing the bank to move forward on the foreclosure.
“Subsequently, there was an agreement, which would allow a payment of $100,000 to reinstate the loan. The payment had to be made by September 30 to satisfy federal bank examiners, according to Stonebridge. I arrived at the bank at 10 minutes before closing, was left sitting in the lobby until the bank closed, and then was met by my loan officer who refused to accept the payment.”
The playhouse, which was opened in 1939 by a group of investors including Broadway playwright Moss Hart, has presented hundreds of shows. Hopefully, by the end of the run of the current show, “A Christmas Carol” (www.buckscountyplayhouse.com), on Thursday, December 23, the theater’s own Ghost of Christmas Future will reveal himself.