Crossroads Theatre Co. to take act “on the road” for two years

Christopher Paladino, President of Devco Corp., the real estate development company overseeing the project.

For more than 25 years, the Crossroads Theatre Company has entertained audiences in an old brick building on Livingston Avenue.

Now, the African-American theater group is preparing to say goodbye to its longtime home. Workers are slated to begin demolishing the building in April, making way for a sweeping new high-rise tower that will house performance spaces, offices and apartments.

But dedicated fans and newcomers alike have a chance to catch one more show at the old Crossroads Theatre.

The theater’s last play in the performance space, “Sarah Sings a Love Story,” concluded on March 26. Beginning April 1, Crossroads will become a transient troupe as construction takes place over the next two years. “Crossroads on the Road,” as the effort is called, will bring the theater company to a number of venues throughout New Jersey, according to the theater company.

The neighboring George Street Playhouse, which will also take up residence in the new building that sprouts from the Cultural Center redevelopment project, is expected to find a single temporary home during construction.

Officials plan for the new theater spaces to open by autumn 2019.

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Architectural rendering of the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center (NBPAC)

The Coming of New Brunwick Performing Arts Center

Crossroads Theatre Co.’s more than two-decade run at 7 Livingston Ave. came to an end on March 26 with the closing of the world premiere of Stephanie Berry’s “Sarah Sings a Love Story.” The musical play, which opened March 11, weaved the life and music of Jazz great Sarah Vaughan with the enduring romance of two devoted fans.

Opened in 1991, the theater soon will be razed to make way for a new performing arts complex for Crossroads and other members of the New Brunswick Cultural Center.

New Brunswick Mayor James Cahill and the city’s nonprofit developer Christopher Paladino have been envisioning a state-of-the-art arts center for 10 years, but now that plans are in place for the $215 million, 25-story multi-use property, they have to “rush,” Paladino joked during a presentation at Crossroads Theatre. The new facility will be known as the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center (NBPAC).

As soon as the current seasons end for Crossroads on March 31 and its Livingston Avenue next-door-neighbor, George Street Playhouse, on May 21, their more than 25-year-old buildings will be torn down to meet a timetable to bring them into the new space by the fall of 2019. American Repertory Ballet and New Brunswick Cultural Center also will be tenants, whose leases partially will be paid for by yet-to-be-determined naming rights, said Paladino, president of New Brunswick Development Corp. or DEVCO.

“We’re on such a tight schedule that George Street will be moving out while they are presenting their last show,” he told about 200 assembled city residents and business leaders

“We have renewed our commitment to our arts district in a way that will allow us to realize its full economic, tourism and cultural potential,” added Cahill, the city’s mayor for more than 25 years.

While these long-gestating plans are nearing their start, the two also discussed another multi-million-dollar plan for a four-acre mix of retail, residential, office and public space to replace the nearby Ferren Parking Lot, which has been demolished over the past few months.

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As part of its ongoing Meet the Mayors series, the Middlesex County Regional Chamber of Commerce kicked off its new season with “New Brunswick 2017, The Arts & the City,” a special gathering that featured only Cahill and Paladino at Crossroads.

Paladino shared how three rehearsal spaces as large as the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center’s two stages will allow for more than 100 additional annual company performances or other productions, while greater production space and stage mechanics will net more opera and ballet performances. An additional 39,000 patrons are expected, Cahill said.

“This will allow our arts groups to share their offerings with wider audiences than ever before and reinforce New Brunswick and Middlesex County’s standing as a desirable tourism destination and even more exciting place to be,” the mayor said.

Three large rehearsal spaces in the NBPAC will allow for more than 100 additional performances or productions drawing 39,000 additional visitors to the city.

Excitement for sharing

Funding for the arts district project stems from a number of public and private entities, including $6 million from the county and $40 million raised by state tax credits, Cahill said. In addition to the arts center’s 485- and 250-seat venues, the mixed use of the property will include 250 residential units, 20 percent of which offer affordable housing; 15,000-square-feet of office space, and a parking garage, Paladino said.

The adjacent State Theatre will not be part of the redevelopment, but is planning a revitalization of its own, Cahill said. Nearby restaurants, such as Stage Left and Catherine Lombardi, will not be affected, the mayor said.

Both George Street and Crossroads will utilize interim space for the next two seasons. George Street Managing Director Kelly Ryman said the theater is finalizing a move that will allow it to remain in Hub City. The 2017-18 season and its location will be announced within in the next two months, Ryman said. George Street expects to be able to continue to present five annual productions, she said.

“It’s important for us to stay right here in the city,” Ryman said. “We’re so grateful to the city, the county freeholders, DEVCO and everyone else who made this project possible.”

With a shorted season from four to three shows, “Crossroads on the Road” will bring the company to venues throughout the state, including Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts, where Artistic Director Marshall Jones III is a theater professor.

Jones said he was excited to work professionally with his students and delighted by the prospect of collaborating with George Street in their new shared space.

“We have a great relationship, but we don’t share art much,” he said. “We tend to march to our own beat just because we’re busy and focused. But if we can find ways to share more at the creative level, that would be very exciting. We’re all sharing one big building so the possibility for that is more organic.”

Crossroads still is in negotiations with other host venues, which will be announced with the 2017-2018 season at the end of March, Jones said.