New City Nights Theatre owner sees dream fulfilled

When the curtain comes down this weekend on City Nights Dinner Theatre’s production of Annie it will mark not only the end of the show’s month-long run, but the end of an era – David Jepson is leaving after 18 years in the artistic director’s chair.

Effective January 1, the sale of the theater for an undisclosed price – which includes the company’s customer mailing list and database of 650 actors – will become final. City Nights’ new owner will be Walpole, Mass., native Douglas Macaskill.

The decision to sell, Jepson said, was born of the desire to try something different.

“After you’ve been doing something for 18 years, it becomes kind of automatic,” he said. “I’ve been operating two theatres for almost two years now.”

That second theatre – Westerly’s Granite Theatre will be Jepson’s artistic home in the new year.

Formerly the Colonial Theatre, the Granite represents a new market and a change of pace for Jepson.

“We’re filling a void,” he said. “There’s not any other theater there other than the summer theater in Matunuck.”

Making the move with him is Jepson’s co-producer wife Beth, with whom he has worked for almost 10 years.

The Granite has a production schedule similar to City Nights – with eight major productions and 120 performances each season – “but with less of the complications that go with dinner theater,” Jepson said.

Still, Jepson admitted, “I’m going to miss the customers, who have become friends. We have customers who date back to our first restaurant.”

City Nights began what Jepson described as a “nomadic” existence at Warwick’s New Farm Restaurant in 1980. After three years of performing in five different restaurants, the theater found a permanent home on the second floor of the Elks lodge on Exchange Street in Pawtucket.

Macaskill, began his stage career the age of eight, starting at the Walpole Children’s Theatre (which he later directed). He has performed and directed in the Boston area and in Florida.

When a friend told him that City Nights was for sale, “I literally walked into the place and fell in love with it,” he said. “I sold my house and ended up buying (the theater).”

But Macaskill said the transition really wasn’t quite so simple – the events of September 11 and season ticket holders’ concern for the future of their theater started the rumor mill churning.

“Nobody had heard of me and the rumors were flying,” he said. “‘Who is this guy? Who does he know?'”

In fact, the offstage drama surrounding the ownership transition ended up inspiring Macaskill’s choice for his first show – the Neil Simon comedy Rumors, opening in January – which Macaskill will direct.

Or, apparently, to find a dark moment in Macaskill’s life.

“It’s a dream come true – to be able to do a dinner theater in New England the way I want to do it is the dream of my life,” he said.

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