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Saturday, December 09, 2023

Potential Orpheum closure could harm UW, city events

University of Wisconsin-Madison students and downtown residents may need to look for an alternative concert venue as the iconic Orpheum Theatre faces the possibility of closing its doors.

Co-owners Henry Doane and Eric Fleming need to pay Monona State Bank a loan balance of $1.1 million to continue operating their restaurant, bar and theatre, located at 216 State St.

The city also did not renew the Orpheum’s liquor license in July due in part to a dysfunctional ownership team and a failure to renew its state seller’s permit, according to a letter from Assistant City Attorney Jennifer Zilavy and the city’s Alcohol Policy Coordinator Mark Woulf.

Both UW-Madison students and downtown businesses would suffer if the Orpheum closes, according to Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4.

Verveer said the Wisconsin Film Festival, which traditionally uses the Orpheum for its annual festival, decided to discontinue using the venue for its downtown screenings in April.

The Madhatters, one of UW-Madison’s all male a cappella groups, has also utilized the Orpheum’s stage in the past.

UW-Madison senior and member Alex Yant said the Madhatters would miss the Orpheum’s unique atmosphere.

“The [majesty] of the venue itself just put us in such a good mood and energized us to keep performing our best,” UW-Madison senior Alex Yant said.

Additionally, Majestic Theatre co-owner Scott Leslie said some bands would avoid touring in Madison in the Orpheum’s absence because the size could accommodate larger crowds than many other Madison venues.

But the Orpheum closing would affect more than just Madison’s music scene.

Landmarks Commission Chair Stuart Levitan said the city considers the theater a historic landmark that gave State Street its identity as the entertainment area of downtown Madison when it opened in 1927.

“To see the Orpheum suffer these financial setbacks is very sad from a historic perspective and from a current revitalization perspective,” Levitan said.

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Despite what may seem like impossible financial struggles, Resnick said there could be brighter days ahead for the “Madison gem.”

“One way or another the Orpheum Theatre is going to operate,” Resnick said. “However, I’m pessimistic under its current leadership.”

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