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North Shore Music Theatre is reopening next week after being closed for more than a year. New owner, Bill Hanney, sits in the theatre as during children’s rehearsal for a scene in the upcoming production of Gypsy. Photo by Deborah Parker/July 1, 2010

BEVERLY — Workers are scrambling to put the final touches on the North Shore Music Theatre as it prepares to reopen Tuesday night after being closed for more than a year due to financial problems.

New owner Bill Hanney said he has spent nearly $300,000 on improvements to the theater's lobby, bathrooms, restaurant and landscaping. The cast for the season's first show, "Gypsy," arrived from New York last week and held its first rehearsal Wednesday on the North Shore stage that rests just off the southbounds lanes of Route 128.

Heading into the holiday weekend, the theater had sold 974 tickets for opening night in the 1,500-seat venue.

Hanney said about 70 percent of last year's season-ticket holders have renewed their subscriptions, and he is optimistic that theatergoers will eventually return in big numbers.

Hanney, who lives in South Easton, bought North Shore Music Theatre for $3.6 million in February after the theater had shut down under $10 million in debt. The sudden closing alienated thousands of subscribers, including many on Cape Ann, who had paid for tickets and never got a refund.

"People are gun-shy," Hanney said. "I tell them, 'I'm a South Shore guy. I wasn't here (when the theater went out of business).' I really think people will come back when they see activity."

As Hanney spoke in the theater's newly carpeted lobby, electricians, carpenters and painters scurried about. Inside the theater-in-the-round, Chowsie, a 4-year-old Shiffon who plays Toto in "Gypsy," barked as actors rehearsed under the direction of choreographer Richard Sabellico.

Hanney said everything will be ready for Tuesday's opening except the theater's restaurant, Backstage Bistro, which is being renovated and won't be ready for another week or two.

The 150-seat restaurant will be run by the Serenitee Restaurant Group, which operates five North Shore area restaurants, including Hale Street Tavern in Beverly and 15 Walnut in Hamilton. It will be decorated with props from previous productions at the theater, such as the "42nd Street" sign and a 6-foot chandelier from "Swing!"

Hanney, who also owns 10 movie theaters and Theatre-by-the-Sea in Matunuck, R.I., said he is operating with a much smaller staff than the previous owners. Hanney said he has six regular staff members, as opposed to 65 under the old regime.

"My line is, 'Even the assistants had assistants,'" he said. "My people all wear four hats. Our box office manager is our house manager. Our public relations guy is our web design guy."

Next year, Hanney plans to cut costs by sharing productions among North Shore Music Theatre, Theatre-by-the-Sea and Cape Playhouse.

For all of the improvements being done at North Shore Music Theatre, Hanney said the theater itself needed little work because it had been completely renovated after a fire in 2005.

"I inherited a great facility," he said. "Everything you can possibly imagine to put on a show is here. Lighting, sound ... they spent a fortune on this stuff. When the public pays for tickets to see a show, they're going to see a show as good as or even better than they saw before."

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or by e-mail at pleighton@sgloucestertimes.com.

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