Mark Cortale has been saying a grateful goodbye to the Art House, the Provincetown theater where he spent 12 years as the producing artistic director — an experience that he says changed his life.
It’s a bittersweet time, Cortale says. That’s because his lease at the venue on Commercial Street is ending just as he is preparing to make his Broadway producing debut.
Days of Wine and Roses, the musical, starring Kelli O’Hara and Brian d’Arcy James, will start a 16-week Broadway run at Studio 54 in January. The show won acclaim off Broadway this summer, and Cortale is one of its lead producers.
Cortale also has four other theater projects developing at New Works Provincetown — the theater lab he founded in 2020 — and one project he will continue to focus on here: a reading of Table 17 on Sept. 23.
“This is basically the most exciting time of my producing career,” Cortale says.
The shows leading to the final three concerts set for Oct. 12 to 14, during Women’s Week, have been emotional celebrations, Cortale says, a chance to appreciate the talented performers and staff he has worked with and the community that supported him.
Cortale, who grew up on Long Island, was a singer in New York when he met Seth Rudetsky. He first came to Provincetown in 1999, invited along on a vacation with Rudetsky, and the friends saw drag star Varla Jean Merman (Jeffery Roberson) perform. Cortale fell in love with the town that summer, and when he returned the next year he spent part of his time doing on-the-beach promotion for Roberson’s show.
Roberson taught him much about drag and, later, about producing, Cortale says, leading to Cortale taking over live entertainment at the Art House in 2011.
He filled the two 127-seat theaters with drag, including RuPaul’s Drag Race favorites like Jinkx Monsoon and Bianca Del Rio, musicians, comedians, and Broadway stars, and, with Seth Rudetsky as host and accompanist, took some acts around the country and the world.
“He started to have this natural talent for producing, and when he finally let the singing go, he blossomed,” Roberson says. “People respected him. They wanted to work there. They knew he was fair. They knew he was honest. And they also knew that people believed in the place.”
Cortale will continue producing shows at the 700-seat Provincetown Town Hall, including two shows scheduled for late this year. But many are lamenting the loss of the intimate Art House, which Broadway star Christine Ebersole has called “a jewel in the treasure box of Provincetown.”
Cortale says he’s open to producing elsewhere. He’s been in talks with the Provincetown Theater and The Club, he says, but nothing’s firm. Meanwhile, live entertainment in the Art House space will not disappear, say its new leaseholders.
Three years ago, the pandemic derailed building owner Ben deRuyter’s plans to convert the Art House to a brewery and performing arts center. In April, deRuyter leased the theaters to Bobby and Bena Lymbertos, who had bought his Brewhouse business the year before. The pair subleased space to Cortale for a final season.
“We will definitely continue to have entertainment there in due time and might even bring some entertainment into our restaurant and incorporate both venues,” Bobby Lymbertos says. Their timeline is not yet clear. “We’re waiting to see what our plan with engineers is going to consist of,” he says.
Marrying the building’s two parts — the restaurant and the theater spaces — has long been a challenge, deRuyter says, so he’s glad to have a new leaseholder in charge with a vision for updates that have been badly needed for years.
The former New Art Cinema theaters were also two of Provincetown Film Festival’s five main screens. Executive Director Anne Hubbell says they’ve begun looking for alternate spaces.
The Art House began offering live entertainment in 2006 with Curt Richardson; deRuyter took over in 2008 before turning to Cortale in 2011.
While he says he’s excited about his building’s “evolution,” deRuyter says he admires all Cortale accomplished there.
So do Ebersole, Roberson, singer-songwriter Melissa Ferrick, and comedian Judy Gold, who all praise Cortale’s high standards, his success at curating and nurturing a diverse group of performers, and his keen eye and ear for a good concert. Ebersole and Gold say he elevated the type of show and quality of performances presented in Provincetown. Cortale “could take lemons and make champagne,” Ebersole says.
“He just classed the place up,” Gold says. “I don’t think anything can compare to what he’s done for Provincetown when it comes to performing arts.”
Dozens of artists played Cortale’s Art House, with highlights including annual multi-show sell-out visits from cabaret legend Marilyn Maye, now 95. In 2012, Cortale formed the Well Strung singing string quartet that ended up touring the country and performing for President Obama. Cortale and Rudetsky created the Broadway @ the Art House interview and concert nights, which they’ve since taken international. Provincetown shows featured a long list of stars like Audra McDonald, Patti LuPone, Sutton Foster, Chita Rivera, and Jessie Mueller.
Carnival 2011 was a turning point, Cortale says, when Ebersole was the first Tony winner in the series. “It changed the course of the Art House,” he says. “I thought, ‘OK, this could work.’ ” And various connections from that series led to much of what Cortale will concentrate on now.
A Sept. 23 staged reading of the comedy Table 17 follows a weeklong residency at the Mary Heaton Vorse house for its writer, director, and actors. Since 2020, New Works — founded by Cortale with reality-TV producer Jonathan Murray and Harvey Reese — has created Provincetown retreats to develop shows with top Broadway names as well as emerging talent.
An August lab involved the musical Beautiful Little Fool about Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald. In March there was Maiden Voyage, about the first all-female team to compete in a prestigious yacht race. A second Provincetown retreat is due in January for the musical Love Is Strange, based on the 2014 film about a same-sex couple.
It was at dinner during one of those retreats with Michael Greif, director of Dear Evan Hansen, and Craig Lucas, who wrote The Light in the Piazza, that Cortale asked about their stalled Days of Wine and Roses musical.
He’d heard O’Hara sing from the score during a Provincetown concert with Rudetsky.
“Michael Greif looked at me and said, ‘Why, are you interested in producing it?’ and I said, ‘100 percent,’ without really knowing how,” Cortale recalls. “It was one of those moments to say yes.”
Ferrick, a Cortale favorite who’s played every season and will sing in the final show, says he always said yes to her ideas, too. That made her agree to his plans — even when Cortale asked the folk-rock singer to open for Broadway stars McDonald and Mueller.
“He opens doors for people,” Ferrick says. “He’s a kind and loving person who has a great business sense. He knows how to create audiences for artists, and that’s a special trick.”
The event: A staged reading of Table 17
The time: Saturday, Sept. 23, 7 p.m.
The place: The Art House, 214 Commercial St., Provincetown
The cost: Free; call 508-487-9222 for details