VISTA — After more than two years of stops and starts, theatergoers are back in their seats with season tickets for a full slate of new performances and experiences at Vista’s Broadway Theater.
“It’s so good to be seen,” Randall Hickman jokingly responds as he greets patrons during the first week back.
Vista’s Broadway Theater’s comeback season is in full swing, with a “grand” reopening show two years after the theater, which opened in 2004, shut its doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The first time back, post-pandemic, felt both terrifying and amazing all at once,” said Erica Marie Weisz, a local singer and performer familiar with the theater. “It’s cool seeing the audience that is coming back, too. They appreciate you so much because they didn’t have live entertainment for so long.”
Owners Hickman and Douglas Davis had no option but to idle and try to keep the lights on after going into hiatus on March 12, 2020.
The community around the 49-seat playhouse at 340 Broadway downtown — billed as the county’s “biggest little theater” — was going to make sure that happened.
According to one Facebook fundraising campaign, more than 250 donors helped raise over $20,000 in 2020.
Last year, 125 donations totaled $8,725 — from a $5,000 ask — toward keeping the theater in business.
Then, on April 4, the theater reopened with a four-performance gala.
Performers volunteered their talents to celebrate their community and the theater’s resilience.
Weisz, an Oceanside resident and performer in the theater’s new cabaret series, even sold her famous rosemary almonds to pitch in what she could.
“It was fun being able to make something for the theater and help a little bit,” Weisz said. “I really think that the environment that Randy and Douglas create is so positive and encouraging.”
The first show of the welcome-back season, “Malt Shop Memories: Let the Music Play,” sold out each weekend through its run.
Hickman said that when auditions opened, actors and performers from San Diego County and beyond were “jumping at the bit,” ready to work.
And the audiences were just as excited on opening night.
“Everyone was pumped,” Hickman said, reflecting on a 50-person selfie with himself and the packed house on April 13. “It was a really great night.”
The series continues with musician Daniel Newheiser, who gives his version of “the standards” in his show, “I’m Old Fashioned,” running through May 29.
Newheiser introduced himself to local theatergoers in 2015’s “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” at the Welk Resort Theatre in Escondido, a production also starring Weisz.
“I was doing musical theater because I was having physical problems which prevented me from playing guitar,” said Newheiser, 33, who has rheumatoid arthritis.
The summer cabaret series began last year to bring local performance back to Vista. And it’s a successful showcase.
“We sent out a notice to come and we will look at your act and we will put it on stage,” Hickman said. “The finest performers I’ve seen came out of the woodwork. So, we brought it back.”
Weisz is one of those return performances, except she’s revamped her act. From July 8 to July 10, Weisz will be on stage debuting “I Can Cook, Too!”
“We’re very excited about being up and running again,” Hickman said.