REVIVING WILBUR THEATRE: Comedy is a laughing matter. Business often isn’t. But Bill Blumenreich has successfully combined both.
The Milton resident and former stockbroker renovated Boston’s historic Wilbur Theatre with his own money and reopened it in 2008, and now regularly fills the seats by booking big-name comics and musical acts.
“I did a lot to the place,” the 62-year-old Blumenreich said of the theater that this year celebrates its centennial. “It being 100 years old and seeing so much volume over the years, it takes a lot to maintain it. I put a couple million into the work.”
This isn’t his first foray into show business. In 1989, he and a partner started the Comedy Connection chain, opening at Faneuil Hall in Boston, later expanding to Providence and Springfield.
He did that for nearly five years before quitting his day job to promote comedy full-time. In addition to running the Wilbur, he also books acts nationwide at a variety of venues.
“I always wanted my own business, and when I was in New York on business, I’d go to comedy clubs. I’m a huge fan of them,” he said. “I thought I’d never been in this business, but knew I could do a better job.”
Blumenreich sold the Comedy Connection franchise in 2008, when his business sense told him he had to think bigger and the Wilbur was available. He signed a 20-year lease, and soon turned the Wilbur, which was closed, into a business that now has 104 workers. It’s a family affair, with daughter Taylor , 30, as backstage production manager, and son Bill Jr., 29, as front-of-the-house manager.
“It was just sitting there,” the senior Blumenreich said of the Wilbur. “For 20 or 30 years, it was used only a few weeks of the year before I took over.
“Marlon Brando had his first paid acting job there,” he said. “He came back years later to do ‘Streetcar Named Desire’ when he could afford a hotel room. Before, he slept in the dressing room.”
One big change in comedy over the years is who people will pay big bucks to see, he said. In the 1970s and 1980s, Boston comics were the rage. Not anymore, and social media is the reason, Blumenreich said.
Cambridge-born comic Dane Cook was selling out places like Boston Garden about 10 years ago, Blumenreich said. “At the same time, George Carlin, a very funny guy, couldn’t sell 2,000 seats. Dane was selling 30,000 seats at twice the price.”
As Cook started doing less, Blumenreich said, “it took me three years to figure out why. He’d mastered social media long before old guys like me knew what it was. Then everyone else started doing it and the pie was cut up in many pieces.”
Blumenreich said the Wilbur books comics mainly on weekends and musical acts during the week. Big names appearing there run the age gamut from Bob Newhart, 84, who will perform May 30, to Assiz Ansari, 31, who sold the place out in early May.
“One reason I like the Wilbur is the balcony and mezzanine are so close to the stage,” said Blumenreich. “Those are the best seats in the house. In most theaters, you sit back in the balcony and you’re so far back you can’t see what’s going on.”
As to abandoning his former career, Blumenreich, who majored in economics at Cornell University, said it’s a decision he has not once regretted.
“I hated being a stockbroker,” he said. “I just hated it.”
MILTON WOMAN WINS MS. WHEELCHAIR CROWN: Rosa Angelica Colon, 43, of Milton, won the crown as Ms. Wheelchair Massachusetts 2014, in a pageant held at the Massachusetts Hospital School in Canton. The pageant is sponsored by the Ms. Wheelchair Massachusetts Foundation, which gives women with physical disabilities a forum for promoting their achievements, as well as the needs of mobility-impaired people.
Colon, who became a paraplegic after a car accident 14 years ago, graduated last year from the Massachusetts School of Law in Andover. She works as an assistant clerk magistrate in the West Roxbury division of Boston Municipal Court.
Colon will represent Massachusetts in the national competition in August in Long Beach, Calif.
BUSINESS BRIEFS: Randy Wiskow, an art teacher at Cardinal Cushing Centers in Hanover, was honored April 25 at a Plymouth Planning Committee recognition event, which lauds those making outstanding contributions to enhancing the lives of those with intellectual disabilities, with this year’s theme focusing on art. Wiskow has worked at the centers for 26 years.
Also honored was John Pappone, promotions manager of the Norwell-based Zildjian Company, a firm that funded a musical-therapy program for Cardinal Cushing Centers.Paul E. Kandarian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org