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HISTORY

The Orange County Register September 6, 2002

THE NEW KID ON THE BLOCK

by  Eric Marchese

VENUES:  The Maverick Theater opens its doors in Orange, beginning with entrepreneur  Brian Newell's original multimedia musical about Elvis Presley.

Yeah, it's  true: It's 25 years since Elvis Presley was found dead at his reclusive  home, Graceland, and no one wants to let go of the guy – least of  all Brian Newell, a local free- lance graphics designer who moonlights  as the producer- director of highly cinematic live theater productions.

His latest,  "The King," poses the question "What would happen if Elvis  Presley had gone into a cryogenic freeze in August 1977 and been brought  back to life today, in 2002?"

Newell's  elaborate, multimedia production got its world premiere this summer at  Stages Theater in downtown Fullerton. During its seven-week run, only  one performance failed to sell out, so Newell started to think bigger.

"Given  their social popularity, I had always wanted to bring theater to an open-air  mall environment such as The Block at Orange, Irvine Spectrum or Triangle  Square," Newell said by phone recently.

As "The  King" was nearing its Aug. 3 closing, Newell and his producing partner,  Jim Book, discussed several mall locations as possible venues where the  show could be moved. Phoning The Block, Newell was passed from one person  to another, ultimately speaking with leasing manager Caren Miller.

Miller had  to do some research, but in early August, she met with Newell and Book,  offering them the 25,000-square-foot space vacated by Mars Music in March.

"As  it turns out," Newell said, "she (Miller) had always wanted  a theater company at The Block but never knew who to call." Newell  and Miller have devised a temporary lease arrangement that Newell said  "works for both of us."

Arriving  at the space Aug. 13, Newell and Book were faced with the prospect of  converting what was essentially a retail location into a bona-fide performance  venue. Their original target date was Aug. 16, the 25th anniversary of  Elvis' death. That goal was unrealistic, as was the prospect of opening  before Labor Day weekend.

Letting the  space sit unoccupied was also not an option, so Newell, his wife, Heidi,  and partner Book have been working around the clock to convert the space  and rehearse the cast, which now includes several new performers and band  members. The space opens tonight as The Maverick Theater, the new, semipermanent  home of "The King."

Book, who  runs his own company, Handless Man Theatrics, is an old hand at turning  odd spaces into theaters. The Maverick is the sixth theater he has designed  (the others include The Chance and Stages). He's been involved in every  major production launched by Newell, helping him realize his artistic  visions via technical wizardry. Newell's ideas are usually large- scale  - he once directed a stage version of "The Magnificent Seven"  - but Book is rarely frightened off.

With the  Maverick, Book said the largest obstacle has been that the space wasn't  designed for running a theater. "Ceiling supports are there only  to hold up the ceiling, not heavy lighting equipment," he noted.  "There are support poles throughout the store which have limited  how wide we could go with the stage and where to put the seats."  Oddly shaped interior walls and electrical power limits have also challenged  his ingenuity.

Visitors  to Mars Music may recall the store's numerous recital rooms around its  perimeter. For the most part, those have been transformed into dressing  rooms and a kitchen area for the actors. The front of the former store  is now a lobby area and box office. The house (seats and stage area) are  toward the center. The "backstage" area is to the sides of and  behind the stage. The store's unseen warehouse is now a scene shop and  a storage area for sets, props and costumes.

Orange's  fire regulations prohibited the theater from having more than 300 seats.  Newell said that "upstart costs were too expensive" for a 300-seat  house, so he and Book arrived at 100 seats as the magic number.

As for naming  the new space, Newell said that was a no-brainer: The large letter "M"  in the cement at the building's entrance led to the name The Maverick  Theater.

"Everyone  at The Block, from the management staff to security, is very excited about  the project," Newell said. "We plan on running the show until  the end of the year," with five performances each week. Newell's  hoping for a healthy turnout to help defray his costs in paying for the  performance rights to the more than 15 Elvis songs featured in the show,  so expect a lot of cross-promotions from the various merchants at The  Block.

"The  King," Newell said, was inspired by a great Elvis lounge act he watched  at a Las Vegas hotel in 2000. He said he turned to Heidi and told her  there had to be "a way to bottle that and just do it for the stage."

He started  reading up on "the sad details" of Presley's life, spending  months in the research phase. He wrote the finished script in a mere 10  days. "I was so inspired when doing it, I couldn't sleep. I just  kept writing and writing." When the script was completed last February,  Newell took it to his friends at Stages. He calls the show "an Elvis  sampler that pays tribute to Elvis in an honest way."

And if audiences  tire of "The King"? Newell has other original scripts he can  produce, including stage versions of "A Christmas Carol" and  "Frankenstein" (called "Prometheus") as well as "Underworld,"  a gritty, urban thriller-romance set in the '80s.

With early  experience as a stage actor and director and amateur 8 mm film director,  Newell terms himself "a filmmaker who has been forced to tell stories  on the stage, minus the camera."

And trying  to run his own live theater? "I'm exhilarated to take this chance,  whether it succeeds or fails.

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Orange County Register, January 24, 2003

Maverick moving around The Block

The theater will shift to a smaller location and reopen April 4.

By: ERIC MARCHESE   

Told by leasing management that his Maverick Theater space at The Block at Orange was up for grabs, Brian Newell, the theater's proprietor, announced this week that in roughly a month he'll begin setting up a smaller version of The Maverick at nearby space 912 at The Block.

Newell has known since Jan. 10 that he might have to vacate his theater, but it wasn't until this week that he was given more definitive details from the leasing office at the popular retail, dining and entertainment property.

The 25,000-square-foot space, formerly Mars Music, is considered an anchor store by the Mills Corp., which developed and owns The Block. Accordingly, Newell said he was told Jan. 10 that a company specializing in building bowling alleys had shown interest in the space and that Newell, whose only hold on the space is a temporary lease, might have to pull up the stakes.

The Block's leasing office, Newell said, offered him the lease on a space nearby the existing one. Though the space, recently vacated by a specialty calendar store, is considerably smaller than the current Maverick Theater, Newell announced this week that The Maverick Theater will begin moving out at the end of February and will re-open March 28 in the new space.

Newell and partner Jim Book spent several weeks last summer converting the larger store into a space for live theater. He then backloaded ``The King,'' his popular multimedia show about Elvis Presley, into the new space, an 88-seat theater with the potential to expand to up to 300 seats. The show had played to sold-out audiences at Stages Theatre in Fullerton earlier in 2002; it reopened at The Maverick and ran Sept. 6 through Dec. 22.

Newell's initial concern about the smaller space -- roughly 4,500 square feet -- was that it wouldn't offer sufficient depth behind the stage to be able to produce multimedia shows such as ``The King,'' which require rear projection. But he and Book have taken enough preliminary measurements to ensure that the space is viable as a theater.

A deeper stage, Newell said, ``gives each production scale. That's a style I always like to play with.'' His imagination ``won't be able to outgrow the stage like it would have been able to'' with the larger space.

In a phone interview, Newell said he and Book are planning on a 1,600-square-foot stage. The house will accommodate up to 88 seats, but Newell said he'll probably open with 70 to 75 to allow for more room backstage. The new Maverick, Newell explained, will be able to offer audiences ``a more intimate experience'' than the current space provides.

Another advantage is that he and Book have already begun the conversion process and will have more than two months vs. the four weeks allotted them last summer.

``I'm excited about the (new) space and am looking forward to working in it,'' he said, noting that due to the theater's popularity and success, the leasing office personnel were ``on my side'' regarding keeping the theater from leaving The Block.

``The theater has done a lot more business than a lot of the temporary retail spots,'' Newell noted. ``Restaurants like Market Broiler, Alcatraz and Albuquerque had theater rush deals for Maverick patrons. Borders was putting our postcards out at their coffeehouse. It was infectious in the sense of bringing customers into the mall community.''

While he still has the larger space, Newell has invited the Insurgo Theater Movement to bring in its current production of ``The Taming of the Shrew.'' After that show's four-weekend run in Fullerton ends, Jan. 26, it will be back loaded into The Maverick, where it will open Jan. 31 and run for four weekends, closing Feb. 22. Newell said the ``new'' Maverick's inaugural production will be “Amadeus” followed by ``The Rocky Horror Show.''

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Orange County Register, Tuesday, June 1, 2004

Maverick Theater to close its doors


Troupe will seek new location after show closes June 6.

By ERIC MARCHESE

Following the June 6 closing date of its current show, the Maverick Theater will close its doors and vacate its space at The Block at Orange, according to troupe artistic director Brian Newell.

Leasing-office personnel phoned Newell on May 28 to tell him they had a new retail tenant lined up for his space and that he would have to begin moving as soon as the Maverick's current show, "It's a Bird ... It's a Plane ... It's Superman," had finished its run. Newell was told there are no other spaces available to the theater at The Block, which means the theater's property - including seats, lighting and technical equipment - will have to be placed in storage until a new venue can be found.

This is the third time The Block's leasing office has imposed a sudden move on The Maverick. The last move was in summer 2003, when the troupe's 4,000-square-foot space was reduced to 2,200 square feet to make way for an adjacent retail space, putting the Maverick's season on hold for seven weeks.

Since first moving there in August 2002, all of the theater company's leases with The Block have been temporary. Newell said there was "no way" the troupe "could ever afford a permanent lease on a theater budget." Despite a strong following from regular patrons at The Block, Newell is concerned that management doesn't feel the theater appeals to their customers. He welcomes public comment on the subject online at www.maverickthea ter.com.

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