WICHITA — Ray and Diane Gans, who have owned the Kansas Dance Academy for 26 years, are the new owners and operators of the Crown Uptown Theatre.
Last month, Have You Heard? reported that an undisclosed group made an offer to Karen Morris, who for 31 years ran the theater near Douglas and Hillside with her late husband, Ted.
“We’ve just kind of always been involved in the theater,” says Diane Gans, who will be the artistic consultant.
Ray Gans, who will be director of operations, has a band called Oncall and is the son of Jeannie Park Gans, who had been with Phil Spitalny and His All-Girl Orchestra in New York City in the 1940s.
Gans and his siblings sang professionally with their mother while growing up.
“We were the von Trapps of Wichita,” he says.
Jeannie Park Gans and her brother, Robert C. Park, are partners with Ray and Diane Gans in the Crown Uptown along with Scott and Lisa Ritchie.
“They’re just big supporters of the arts and want this to continue on with the Crown,” Ray Gans says.
The group is operating as Crown Partners.
Matthew Rumsey, an actor and former manager with Melad Stephan’s Empire Restaurant Management, is the executive artistic director and the food and beverage director.
Brian Mangers, a chef at the Candle Club, also will be the chef for the Crown Uptown.
Their first show is “White Christmas,” which will open Thanksgiving weekend.
The theater hasn’t been in operation since May when Morris locked out former operator Crown Uptown Management.
That group was almost $150,000 behind in state and federal taxes.
Before Crown Uptown Management began producing shows, Ray Gans says he and his group had started discussing taking over the space.
“We heard it was for sale again,” Rumsey says.
“I just felt like it was the right fit for me,” Ray Gans says.
During the Ganses’ transition into the business, Morris plans to help coordinate some of the motor coach groups that used to frequent the Crown.
“The CVB said there hasn’t been a week that’s gone by where someone has not called to inquire about when the theater was going to open or if it’s going to open,” Morris says.
The Ganses say they’d appreciate Morris staying around “forever.”
“I can call from the nursing home,” she says, joking.
Morris says she’ll stay “just long enough to get them off to a good start.”
The Ganses plan significant sound and lighting upgrades.
“They’re completely redoing the sound system, and that’s going to be fantastic,” Morris says.
The Ganses also plan to reopen an orchestra pit for up to about 10 musicians to play during shows.
The Crown season will have seven shows, including musicals and plays.
“We want to do a nice mix,” Rumsey says.
He says that will mean some family shows and classics but also productions that might appeal to a younger audience.
The Ganses also will continue the Crown’s tradition of offering children’s theater as well.
They also will host parties and events, such as weddings and their own New Year’s Eve party.
Morris fielded interest from three groups for the Crown space.
NoMar Theatre Inc. wanted the space but couldn’t raise the money in time to buy it.
The third group is undisclosed.
“It was a good thing to see interest from several groups,” Morris says.
She’s pleased with the Crown Partners acquisition.
“They’re going to be making a lot of good changes.”