The Leading Ladies of the Maltz Jupiter Theatre

From left: Sharon Domino, Diane Perrella, Bebe Riccardo, Michele Jacobs, Peggy Katz, Susan Johnson atop the beginnings of the Hairspray stage. Domino, Perrella, and Katz’s wardrobe courtesy of Bloomingdale’s.
Photography by Nick Mele

Jupiter isn’t the first place one would expect to find a world-class repertory theater. Yet in this family-oriented town renowned for its beaches, boating, and golf courses, the Maltz Jupiter Theatre has earned a reputation for excellence that far exceeds its geographic boundaries.

Its history dates back to 2001, when a small non-profit organization acquired the former Burt Reynolds Dinner Theatre. Hundreds of volunteers and a few key women staged a revival, and under the leadership of producing artistic director and chief executive Andrew Kato, the Maltz has evolved into a cultural beacon for Palm Beach County and beyond.

A winner of numerous Carbonell Awards (South Florida’s highest theatrical honor), the Maltz produces every aspect of its plays and musicals. The theater hosts 100,000 visitors and 8,000 subscribers annually, while its Goldner Conservatory of Performing Arts and educational initiatives benefit thousands of young people. All of these elements result in a substantial local economic impact. The company’s set-building warehouse employs carpenters, welders, and designers, while the theater attracts actors, choreographers, and directors from across the country to Jupiter.

But despite these strong creative forces, the Maltz would be at a loss without its biggest supporters. That’s why its 2018 gala, titled “Nothing Like a Dame,” will honor the women who work behind the scenes to help make the theater a success.

“There are many organizations to support, [so] when someone has such faith in what you’re doing, it’s deeply moving,” says Kato, who arrived at the Maltz 12 years ago. Having worked on Broadway and as a producer for the Tony Awards, he brought with him a high level of professionalism and skill that South Florida theatergoers craved.

From Left: Gil Walsh and Connie Frankino in the Maltz Jupiter Theatre prop and wardrobe room

“When I moved to Jupiter from New York City, there was such a void in my life without Broadway,” says board member Susan Johnson. “When I learned they had rebuilt the old dinner theater, I was thrilled and volunteered to be on the first gala committee. I’ve been a supporter since.”

“Art and culture is a great complement to any community,” says Michele Jacobs, a gala committee member and Economic Council of Palm Beach County chief strategy officer. “Having grown up in North Palm Beach, I truly appreciate having a world-class theater right in my backyard.” In her former position as the marketing director of The Gardens Mall, Jacobs collaborated with Kato and the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County to host “The Art of Dr. Seuss” and student performances of Seussical at the mall.

For women like Johnson and Jacobs, their investment goes beyond philanthropic gestures. These “dames” have graciously opened their homes for Maltz events and artists, introduced friends to the theater, and recommended new board members. They also hold an emotional stake in the conservatory’s students, the visiting talent, and the quality of work shown on stage.

“The theater is deeply meaningful to them,” Kato says. “This is not a check-writing campaign. They all believe in getting their hands dirty and making something great of our community.”

Those with a knowledge of theater have even forged creative partnerships with Kato. Priscilla Heublein sits on his artistic advisory committee and frequently shares new works and ideas with him. Interior designer Gil Walsh has brainstormed with him about set designs and production. She praises Kato and his team for consistently dazzling audiences on all fronts.

“Andrew and [his partner] Jay [Johnson] have a deep love for the community, a keen eye for excellence, and are constantly raising the bar,” Walsh says. “Whether it’s bringing in another great show or hiring outstanding performers and crews, their concerted effort continuously places them, and the Maltz Jupiter Theatre, above the rest.”

While the Maltz has gained a following for its stagings of classic musicals and plays, Kato aspires to present more cutting-edge and challenging material, such as last year’s Disgraced, a Pulitzer Prize–winning play that brought the theater to 98-percent capacity.

“Once in a while, Andrew does a stretch play that makes people think,” says board member Roe Green, who was instrumental in the creation of the theater’s Green Room Club Level Lounge.

From left: Roberta Golub, Priscilla Heublein, Roe Green, and Kim Tiano in the steel-cutting division of the warehouse. Heublein and Green’s wardrobe courtesy of Bloomingdale’s.

“Anytime we take people out of their comfort zone, they enjoy that stretch,” adds Kato, who hopes theatergoers will mature with the Maltz as it implements a five-year expansion strategy. The plan includes creating a 199-seat theater to present smaller works, increasing the size of its main stage, and building a production facility so the Maltz can launch pre-Broadway shows.

“Andrew is a perfectionist in all aspects of the theater,” says Connie Frankino, founder of KidSanctuary Campus and the “Grande Dame” of the Maltz’s 2018 gala. “Under his direction I believe the Maltz will continue to grow and be recognized for its excellence.”

The Maltz Jupiter Theatre Goldner Conservatory of Performing Arts is also poised for expansion. Currently, it offers acting, musical theater, and dance classes, as well as camps, mentorships, a youth touring company, and a two-year professional training program. Kato intends to double the conservatory’s size in order to serve more students.

“The conservatory truly illustrates how the arts are an integral part of a young person’s development,” says Peggy Katz, whose husband, Rick, is a founding board member. Together, the couple sponsors the Peggy and Rick Katz Award for Outstanding Achievement, which is given to a conservatory student each year. All of its recipients have participated in Maltz productions, and two are now working in New York theaters.

Philanthropist Roberta Golub has also focused her energy on the conservatory. She loves to watch students grow in their artistry, and even does her part to teach them good values. One year, she purchased a bevy of thank you cards for the kids to fill out for their instructors, illustrating the importance of giving thanks to those who’ve dedicated themselves to helping others.

As for his own gracious sentiments, Kato will say “Bravo, ladies” to his creative counterparts and biggest cheerleaders at the “Nothing Like a Dame” gala on February 24. Although their names don’t appear on a playbill, their stellar performances promise this cultural gem will be enjoyed for decades to come. Now that’s worthy of a standing ovation.

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