Club-to-theater update

Venue shifts
By JIM SULLIVAN  |  August 13, 2008

BIGGER LAUGHS The Wilbur will soon be transformed into the biggest comedy theater in the country.

The Comedy Connection is dead; the Wilbur Theatre lives. But as a comedy venue? Well, yes, and as a live-music venue.

Here’s what happened. Bill Blumenreich, the big guy who leased the space for the once-hot Connection in Faneuil Hall, is the same fella who has signed a 20-year-lease for the venerable old (it was built in 1913) theater at Tremont and Stuart Streets. He’s moved his base of operations from the 490-seat club — which had been the biggest comedy club in the country — to a 1200-seat theater, which he says is now the biggest comedy theater in the country. At the Wilbur — Blumenreich may rename it — he’s left alone the balcony and mezzanine, but ripped out the floor seats to put in tables and chairs. He also had four split-levels sections built for better visibility.

What he’s promising: “If you take the biggest 100 names in comedy, you’ll see 90 of them here in the next couple of years.” For instance, Sarah Silverman — “hot as a pistol,” quips Blumenreich — will likely be paid more than $100,000 to do a two-show night this fall, with tickets priced between $45 and $65. Craig Ferguson will play (and film) at least three shows here in October. The big-name comedy nights will be on weekends, starting in early September. Blumenreich will still book lesser-known local comics on weeknights, but not like he used to.

“I love the Boston comics,” says Blumenreich, “but the day of Boston people flocking to see local comedians has come and gone. You can’t squeeze blood out of a stone.”

Boston’s primary concert booker, Live Nation, will also book rock shows at the Wilbur on weeknights, for which the floor space will be cleared to make the place more club-like. Spritualized was recently slated to play, but the Wilbur’s wheelchair access wasn’t deemed sufficient and the show moved across the street to the Roxy. After that problem was remedied, they booked shows by Duffy and Gnarls Barkley. Blumenreich, who says he plans a grand-opening celebration for mid September, also hopes to book “adult contemporary” musical acts along the lines of Diana Krall down the road.

In other club-into-theater transition news, the House of Blues complex, which will include a 2500-capacity theater, will now likely open in February, say sources at Live Nation, the exclusive booker. When Patrick Lyons’s Lansdowne Street clubs were shuttered, and the lease bought by HoB, the company was hoping to open the theater/dining complex by the end of 2008.

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