Andrew Kato, artistic director of the Maltz Jupiter Theatre, has been instrumental in elevating the theater to South Florida’s gold standard for Broadway-level entertainment. The Maltz scored seven Carbonell wins this year, honoring excellence in South Florida theater, and for the company’s just-launched 2012-2013 season, it announced a record-breaking 7,350 subscribers.

The value of Kato’s leadership is even more impressive considering the situation he entered into in 2005, when he accepted the job – decades after the Burt Reynolds Dinner Theatre launched his theatrical beginnings in Jupiter. As Kato recalls it, the Maltz was not the powerhouse it is today.

“I got a call from Milton Maltz, who said he wanted to meet with me and his wife – not for any particular reason except he’d just heard about me down here. Two years later, I got another phone call from him saying, ‘Would you consider coming down here and taking over the theater? You can really shape this with your vision, and would you come down for an interview?’

“At that point, I didn’t think you could go home again. That wasn’t something I was interested in. Things were going well for me. But I had just turned 40, so I said to my partner, Jay, that maybe this is one of those things you’ve got to take a chance on? I probably should have done a little more due diligence, because the theater was really struggling. When I came down here, two weeks later, the hurricane of 2005 hit. The first show we loaded into the theater – I inherited the first season – was lit with one light bulb. It got a ‘D’ grade from Hap [Erstein, of the Palm Beach Post]. People were angry. And I was like, what am I doing here?

“The subscriber base was 2,300 and dwindling. The way we refer to it in the early days is, it’s like having bad credit with your bank. You were better off having no credit than bed credit. We were trying to get people to come back, and they were like, ‘No, we’ve had it. We’ve been here for two years.’

“You have to understand, when I arrived here, there was no furniture in the lobby. It didn’t feel like a home. There was no sense of permanence. There was nothing on the walls. There was no landscaping. There wasn’t anything that made you feel like it would be here very long. Before we opened the doors for the new season, I insisted that we have furniture in the lobby, which is the current wicker furniture that’s there now. It was $10,000 worth of furniture donated by a friend of our family’s, from around the corner at the Yum Yum Tree. He took pity on me and agreed to give it to the theater. We thought it would last for two years, and I guess we should be happy it’s lasted this long, because it still looks pretty great. Then we put banners on the walls, and I got another company to donate the pictures that are on the walls.

“Sometimes, there are nonverbal cues you can send out. We were really in trouble, and we were putting the place together with scotch tape and paper clips. We survived because of the financial support of Milton Maltz, who is a major contributor, and other board members who hadn’t completely given up on us. It was a struggle. We were down to the wire sometimes.”