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Friday, July 25, 2014

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Family business turned into an entertainment empire

Tags: Arts
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Howard Pechet with his Guiness Award

Soon after graduating with a master’s of arts degree from Washington State University, Howard Pechet joined his family’s hotel business, eventually turning it into an entertainment empire.

It started when Pechet’s father, Eugene, who owned 19 Western Canadian-based hotels and adjoining taverns, asked his son to look into dinner theatres operating in the United States, in the hopes of starting one at the family’s new Mayfield Hotel in their hometown of Edmonton.

Pechet opened Stage West in 1975. Admittedly, he didn’t know what he was doing and says his first three productions did poorly.

The next production, The Gingerbread Lady, starring 1950s starlet Gloria DeHaven, was an ironic success.

 “The Gingerbread Lady is about a retired alcoholic actress. Our main income in the theatre is from liquor, and I’m doing a play about this actress who comes out of rehab and falls off the wagon. So, it wasn’t probably the best choice of plays to open with,” Pechet says.

The next production, a Cole Porter revue, also failed. “I thought, we could probably do it ourselves and that’s how we got started. [Then] I brought in [actor] Gig Young to do a play called Harvey and the thing just took off.”

Since then, Pechet, now executive producer of Stage West and chairman of Stagewest Hospitality, which includes several hotels, dinner theatres and casinos, has produced almost 1,000 plays and has co-written 14 musical revues, setting the Guinness World Record for producing the most theatre productions.

His mission has been to offer a great buffet with outstanding theatre productions headlined by internationally known celebrities and entertainment icons from the world of television and movies, including Ginger Rogers, Mickey Rooney, Susan Ruttan, Anson Williams, Billy Hufsey, Loretta Swit and Don Knotts, to name a very few.

 “Over the years, we opened theatres in Regina, Winnipeg, Calgary and Mississauga, and that’s how we grew,” says Pechet. 

“We also produced plays in Palm Springs, San Diego and toured around Ontario.”

He followed his theatre successes by opening hotels in Medicine Hat, Mississauga and a hotel/casino complex in Camrose, Alta.

Stage West in Winnipeg and Regina, although successful, eventually closed, which was more to do with property issues than anything else. The Edmonton location was sold. Stage West Calgary and Mississauga are thriving to this day.

Pechet started to pen his own shows in the late 1990s. His productions include California Dreaming, The British Invasion I & II and most recently, Motown Gold with director and co-writer Tim French, which received excellent reviews. There are plans to tour it in the United States.

 “Right now, I’m working on a play called Summer in the City,” says Pechet. “I’m doing this with Randy Johnson, a writer-director, who I have wanted to work with for some time. He did plays about Elvis and Janis Joplin, both sanctioned by their estates. Summer in the City will open in Calgary in May and in Mississauga next Christmas.”

Pechet feels Jews have a historical bias that is culturally oriented. “Certainly, the Jewish community as a whole in Edmonton was very supportive of theatre, ballet and opera. Communities like in Winnipeg underpin many of the cultural activities that go on in Winnipeg,” he says. “When you come out of a community that is so culturally supportive, I think it becomes an inherent characteristic of the children that grow up in those communities. It has helped me in my appreciation of music, the stage and actors.”

Today, Pechet lives in Rancho Mirage, Calif., with his wife, Henriette. The two recently became grandparents to grandson, Greyson. A third generation of Pechets has now joined the family business. Pechet’s son, Jason, is the president of Stagewest Hospitality and his other son, David, heads the casino division.

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