Waukesha’s new Majestic Cinema and Palladium dinner theater
Marcus Theaters took a calculated risk opening up the colossal Majestic Cinema (770 N. Springdale Road, Waukesha) over the May 4th weekend, not only as a move to bolster attendance in an era of home theaters with surround-sound and HD/Blue-Ray technology, but also in location and philosophy.
Set not far off from the now-demolished Westown and now-defunct West Point theaters, the Majestic is seated on the farthest edge of an industrial complex off the back side of a Home Depot and Sam’s Club. But rather than stick with the familiar spartan, low-ceiling multiplexes that have become a recognizable mainstay for the Marcus corporation theaters in the past 25 years, this 16-screen affair – two of them ‘UltraScreens’ and another a dinner theater called the AT&T Palladium, which will be detailed further along – is a throwback to the art deco days of the cinema house.
Starting from the outside, gone is the towering and lit signboard listing movies, in favor of reading the times off the internet, outside posters and electronic marquees over the ticket stations. Forgivably, because there was a rush to get it open for the premiere of Spider-Man 3, the Marcustheatres.com website did not have a working phone number until Friday. Even then, only one automated message worked. You also are not able to purchase show tickets online (as of this writing) as they work out the programming kinks.
A giant neon-lined overhang (think: Vegas casino) guides those who want to keep their date dry while they park – or they can use the $3.00 valet service. For once, however, the parking area is well-conceived and the walk to the front door is not necessarily interminable.
Once inside and past the long ticket lines, the main lobby opens up to a grand affair. Anyone who has ventured to the new Marcus Renaissance in Sturtevant will recognize the new standard architecture and interior design being adopted for the movie complexes. In the center of the room sits a baby grand piano surrounded by leather sofas and palm trees. The piano mysteriously waits for someone to play it, but it is unlikely the harried and tuxedo wearing employees have the time.
On the left is a separate pizza bistro called Zaffiro’s and to the right a Stone Creek Coffee dominated by ice cream shop offerings. The concession stand runs almost the length of the room, illuminated from below by tanks of popcorn. Food offerings here run the gamut from traditional sweet and salty snacks to more complete fast-food offerings. While you wait in line, many flat-screen plasmas distract from the high food prices with previews of coming attractions.
Two grand curved staircases and one elevator lead up to the centerpiece of the Majestic: UltraScreens with full stadium seating and plush reclining seats. The seating in itself is more impressive than the thundering visual and audio quality offered – soft and high-backed numbers with large, built-in cup holders and accommodating sideboard armrests.
The regular screens not playing Spider-Man 3 (all 12 of them) are very nice as well. Each is of reasonable size with a large screen (think: the opposite of Prospect Mall theater) and plush stadium seating. It’s everything one comes to expect from the anxious Marcus Corporation, trying to figure out how to get your fanny back to their screening rooms – which makes the philosophy behind their updated prices so contrary.
Along with the grand atmosphere and amenities, the Majestic becomes the centerpiece for the near annual ticket and concession price hike in southeastern Wisconsin. Matinees are now $6.50, and shows after 5:30 are now $9.00. If the show is in one of the UltraScreens (and now the Renaissance’s UltraScreen), add .50 to the price. Those who want to be assured of a good seat can reserve one for $2.00 extra. Concession prices invariably have been climbing upward in recent times so that a large tub of popcorn and two large drinks is $14.00.
Try and imagine what a night out would now be like if you and a loved one wanted to see a Friday night flick with a child in tow. Without regards of gas costs, you are running late and use the valet service. You buy reserve UltraScreen tickets and use the babysitting service. You get the popcorn, soda and your loved one craves a super rope. By night’s end, you’ve just spent over $50.00. And it will cost you even more at the Palladium, but we’ll get to in a minute.
The standard pricing for nine out of the ten southeastern Wisconsin first-run Marcus theaters (excluding the aging Northtown complex) is now the highest in the State and higher or equal to most of the chains’ theaters across the Midwest including Chicago. By comparison, the nearest competitors in SE Wisconsin – AMC, Cinemark and Landmark – are all cheaper. Yes, even a movie at the Landmark’s model of glamour, romance and exorbitant prices, the Oriental Theater on Milwaukee’s East Side is cheaper by $.50
There are a lot of little problems with the Majestic that can really be factored into opening week jitters. But a few big factors that have to do with new business philosophy of this pioneer project are confusing.
It was the first time anyone had seen more than five screens in one place. It was the first time that prints became more available and ran on two screens. This meant more options. It began a pattern of moviegoers demanding more amenities in a time of exploding suburbs and traffic. They demanded a return to luxury and more flexible times.
Marcus responded by abandoning the metro area altogether (The Grand on Wisconsin Ave. being the last diamond showcase Marcus owned) as parking was disappearing and moviegoers with expendable income had now moved in droves to despoil the countryside with subdivisions.
So now the question comes: will they be able to keep up appearances at the Majestic for long? And more importantly, will customers ignore price issues like they have for gasoline and return continually?
It was a fine experience, but for some very pricey (see Part 2: the Palladium). It makes for a nice treat once in awhile, but for a local industry depending on regular turnover it can’t bode well. If the profit margins slip, or if the work is too hard for the young employees, will the Majestic hold up? The one place to escape the real world may become the model of the way things go. VS