BY JORGE SIDRON
LANCASTER, Pa. -- The American Music Theatre opened here on
April 12 without an empty seat in the house.
In fact, advance ticket sales passed $500,000 shortly after
construction began on the 55,000-square-foot theater last fall and
were expected to reach $4 million by opening night, said Gregg
Halteman, the theater's director of sales and marketing.
Built at a cost of $10 million, the 1,600-seat theater, which
will employ up to 100 full-time workers, is a welcome addition to
the tourist industry in Lancaster County.
The theater's first performance, "From Branson to Broadway,"
came less than four months after Sight & Sound, a 1,400-seat
Christian-based theater in Strasburg, burned down.
"We're looking at $40 million in economic impact the first year
based on overnight stays and day trippers," said Allan Erselius,
president of the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitors
"American Music Theatre will be a very significant addition to
the Lancaster County tourist package."
Were Sight & Sound -- which pulled in $55 million last year
-- operating, tourist officials were hoping for a 10% increase in
payroll taxes in Lancaster County this year with the two large
theaters operating simultaneously, said Erselius.
Halteman, the former director of sales at Sight & Sound,
said the fire that destroyed Sight & Sound actually hurt ticket
sales at American Music Theatre.
"We weren't strong enough on our own to hold on to all of the
multiday bookings," said Halteman. "When the Sight & Sound
component disappeared, there were a lot of people who didn't want
to take the chance of something new being the reason for their
However, armed with a $500,000 advertising campaign and lots of
positive press, "we're now starting to break loose," Halteman
Of the 475,000 people who are expected to visit American Music
Theatre this year, about 85% will come by motorcoach from the
Northeast , the Midwest, the Carolinas and even California, with
the rest coming from Lancaster and the surrounding area, said
The theater's primary client will be 50 to 75 years old, female
and retired, he said.
Designed in an opulent style, the American Music Theatre
features an open dome atop a three-story lobby, vaulted windows and
spiral staircases leading up to a balcony. The use of pillars and
red brick borrows heavily from its Lancaster County roots.
Performances will be staged on a 65-foot stage augmented by
nine-foot-tall video screens.
Seating is especially generous, with extra-wide seats, high
chair backs and nearly twice the legroom found in other theaters,
There is parking space for more than 450 cars, plus more than 20
"From Branson to Broadway," which is scheduled to run through
Oct. 25, features a cast of six singers and 20 dancers, and is
backed up by a 12-piece orchestra and a technical crew of 16.
Described as "a celebration of the American music experience,"
the show opens in an Amish community with the cast singing in Old
Order German. The scene is built around the traditional work of the
Amish, including a barn raising. When the barn doors close at the
end of the scene, they open a few moments later, seemingly
transformed to a contemporary country-and- western barn dance.
From there it's on to New York, where the first act concludes in
a celebration of the music of Broadway.
The second act is built on an immigration theme and celebrates
our nation's founding.
Live theater, augmented by video, transports the audience to
Ellis Island, and then on a journey through the Midwest, the West
Coast and the South, in scenes that pay homage to the spirit of
working families across the country.
With a price tag of $1 million, the show uses 30 different sets,
350 costumes and 250 multimedia images, including video, slides and
still photographs. The show will be performed a total of 403 times
this year, about 12 times a week, from Tuesday through Sunday.
Ticket prices range from $12.50 for children 3 to 17 to $25 for
adults and are refundable. Group rates for 25 or more are slightly
Although the theater itself does not serve food, it offers
packages with seven local restaurants that include a meal and show
During the Christmas season, the theater will stage "Holiday
Treasures," a look at the holiday traditions of Europe, before
bringing "From Branson to Broadway" back for the 1998 season.