Written by 7:55 pm Maverick Theatre, News, Press Releases, Theater



Theater and film have always been distant cousins of a sort; there are blood connections, but they run in different circles. It was always Brian Newell’s dream to bring them together for the same party. There are many examples of fine films that began life as plays and, more recently, stage musicals that started out as movies— often low-budget horror movies—but there are no examples of stage dramas that began life on-screen. Newell and Jim Book were at Troy High School together, film and theater geeks, when Newell first developed his notion of putting movies on stage.

Newell began as a sound designer for different theaters and was one of the founding members of STAGEStheatre, along with Brian Kojac, in 1992. Newell’s first directorial effort there, in ’94, was a show he adapted from the classic Hollywood western, The Magnificent Seven. The show was a hit and encouraged Newell to begin Staged Cinema Productions. His thought was, “In the future, for theater to continue to be popular, it needs to start putting movies on stage.”The new generation was not as familiar with classic theater as it was with movies. His premonition proved to be correct. The Maverick Theater, Newell and Book’s start-up is now celebrating its thirteenth year and has never skipped a beat. With the addition of partners Heidi Newell, Brian’s wife and primary costumer, and writer/actor/ director Nathan Makaryk, the Maverick has consistently produced successful sell-outs, one after another.

Newell and Book found their first space at the Block at Orange in September 2002. They produced a show that had already been a success at Stages, The King, an original show written and directed by Newell about Elvis Presley making a comeback in modern times. The show ran through the end of that year and was a huge success. That inspired Newell to keep the Maverick experiment going with Amadeus and Rocky Horror (the first production in Orange County), as well as Newell’s original adaptation of Frankenstein called Prometheus. This was when UCI theater graduate Nate Makaryk brought in his improv group, Improv Shmimprov, which has continued to perform at the Maverick every weekend since, to a large and loyal following.

After two years of successful shows, they lost their lease at the Block. However, public demand inspired Newell to continue the Maverick in Fullerton. They quickly found a perfect space, big enough for two stages, but it took six months plowing through building ordinances to finally get the theater open—in June 2005—in the very space they still inhabit, just across the tracks from the downtown Fullerton train station. The Maverick features an art deco cabaret space with an actual raised stage, curtains, and a beer and wine bar, in addition to their main stage, a large black box theater. This way, they never need to have a dark weekend. Their opening show in Fullerton was Rocky Horror, a show they went on to produce four more times. They continued with classics like Hamlet and Three Musketeers, along with well-known films like Stalag 17.

It took a while to build up an audience in the new space, and it looked for a time like the Maverick might not make it. Once again, it was Elvis that saved the day. A new production of The King was promoted as a cover story in the OC Register and took off. The end of 2006 saw the staging of B-movies Night of the Living Dead and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, both adapted and directed by Newell, which have been produced every year since to sell-out audiences. A newer show (another of Newell’s creations) added to the end-of-the-year B-movie repertoire is Plan 9 from Outer Space, which will see its fourth production this year; as Newell introduces it, “The worst stage version of the worst film ever made.” Another show about Elvis written and directed by Newell, this one a recreation of Elvis’ 1968 TV special, simply titled Elvis 68, was a huge money-maker for the theater, enjoying two runs last season.

The Maverick stages one or two sell-out musicals every year, all with movie tie-ins: Chicago, Rent, The Producers, Illegally Blonde, Cannibal: The Musical, and most recently, Les Miserables, to name a few. Curtis Jerome was the genius behind all these. As director/ choreographer/set designer/ costumer/writer, Jerome made every show a stunning success. Tragically, he was killed in a car accident over Memorial Day weekend this year. Many theatergoers who have seen these shows have commented on how they were the best productions of the material they have ever seen. Curtis will be sorely missed at the Maverick.

Meanwhile, in addition to packing the house every Friday and Saturday night at 11:00 for Improv Shmimprov, Nate Makaryk became known for directing and designing large-scale adventure epics like Treasure Island, Count of Monte Cristo, Cyrano De Bergerac, an original version of the Robin Hood story written by Makaryk called The Legend of Robin Hood, and Makaryk’s adaptation of The Hobbit, which was in so much demand it was staged twice in three years. Some of the more recent dramatic shows, all directed by Newell, were Frost/Nixon, The Sting, and A Few Good Men. In addition to producing most of the shows, Newell has, in fact, directed 48 of the 89 shows the Maverick has staged.

Newell dreams of writing a few original shows about Hollywood and movies and wants to re-stage The Magnificent Seven. There are obstacles to getting the rights to make movies that don’t have existing stage versions. Newell feels theater has not embraced movies enough to make it acceptable, or possible, to get them on stage. There are so many classic films with great scripts that can’t get to the stage because of all the rights issues.

There is a certain amount of frustration Newell feels in keeping things moving forward. It’s only going to take one great film drama to get a successful stage version for Hollywood and Broadway to shake hands and recognize that they both come from the same family. Until then, The Maverick Theater, now celebrating its tenth year in downtown Fullerton, will continue to bring movies to the stage in its own sacred niche, just across the train tracks.

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