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Murphy looks like a natural fit as successor to Conte at Shea’s Performing Arts Center

The hiring of Michael G. Murphy as president and CEO of Shea’s Performing Arts Center is a good sign that the Theatre District’s anchor will continue under capable leadership, and by a Gowanda native.

Murphy, 55, is managing director of The Old Globe theater complex in San Diego. He begins his new job at Shea’s on Oct. 3, succeeding Anthony C. Conte.

Conte, a former banker, dramatically changed the once-dismal fate of Shea’s, vanquishing the theater’s $5.2 million debt and increasing the number of season ticket holders to 13,326 from 5,248. When he announced his retirement late last year, the arts community held its collective breath. So much had been done since he took over in 2001.

Under his leadership, Shea’s was restored – new seats installed, in addition to curtains and carpeting. It was a top-to-bottom “polishing,” including repair and repainting of the magnificent ceiling and replicas of the 65-foot-tall blade sign and “Wonder Theater” sign. Conte opened Smith Theater and rescued the former Studio Arena Theatre, renamed the 710 Main Theatre.

The high bar set by the range of accomplishments made the extensive national search to find his replacement that much more challenging. But it has been done, and it is heartening that Conte will remain with the theater in a part-time consulting role.

For his successor, it will feel like a homecoming.

Murphy, who fell in love with theater as a 5-year-old when he attended a production of “Charley’s Aunt” near St. Catharine’s, Ont., told News critic Colin Dabkowski of fond memories attending shows in the 1970s when Cleveland Playhouse was in residency at the Chautauqua Institution.

He went on to an illustrious career with a host of striking accomplishments, whether backstage or in the boardroom making critical decisions with the San Diego Opera, guiding the Austin Lyric Opera and upon his return to the highly regarded Old Globe in 2003. He has served as managing director since 2011.

Murphy plans to build upon the foundation Conte has achieved, working with other local theater companies to produce programming and build audiences for Shea’s 710 Theatre.

His success and that of the entire Theatre District will not only create positive economic impact but add to the quality of life and cultural fabric of a community known for its high-caliber productions.

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