The Curtain rises

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 May, 2007, 12:00am

If Hong Kong were a grand theatre, Hollywood Road would be the main stage. The area is home to some of the most vibrant street theatre in the city - from little old ladies pushing trolleys laden with rubbish to executives conducting impromptu meetings on mobile phones. What better location then to open a theatre cafe.

Perched one storey above Hollywood Road, where it meets Lyndhurst Terrace, Le Rideau - meaning, appropriately, the curtain - has an eagle's view of central SoHo's constantly changing milieu and is fast making a name among theatre-goers and fans of live music.

Jason Budovitch and business partner Christophe Bonno, the brains behind the cosy home to small theatrical productions, say the venture was borne from a realisation that their nearby bar Gecko wasn't ideal for comfortably hosting such evenings, including live jazz.

'The real spark that led to the opening of Le Rideau was the tremendous response we had to live theatre in an intimate setting at Gecko,' says Canadian-born Budovitch. 'But Gecko seats about 35 people and it wasn't the best place with people crammed in.'

They'd also noticed that their theatrical evenings were spurring more groups to stage productions. So, having established that there was a demand, they began the hunt for a venue.

'We needed somewhere that could be really comfortable and intimate for guests as well as artists yet was still a comfy bar and theatre as opposed to being strictly a theatre,' says Budovitch.

It took a year to tweak the design, but only 21/2 months to transform the former karaoke joint into an atmospheric theatre cafe. The result, which opened last December, is exactly as the men planned.

The wooden floors, brick-faced walls and bar wouldn't look out of place in a Parisian brasserie, while balustrades lend a theatrical feel. The stage, with its dark red velvet drapes, is extendible to cater for different requirements. The space is framed by huge windows giving a panoramic view over Hollywood Road.

The performers also gain, says Budovitch. 'We created a backstage area in such a way that they can enter from the left or right of the stage to give flexibility.'

There's proper theatre lighting and a state-of-the-art sound system. Theatre-goers can eat and drink during a show. Service is discreet, with courses served during breaks.

And when live music is staged, guests can order drinks during performances. If feedback is anything to go by, Le Rideau appears to be striking the right note.

'We had Paul Provenza, a US comedian who has appeared on David Letterman,' says Budovitch. 'He was amazing and the atmosphere as a comedy club was fantastic.'

The men hope the venue will appeal to a broad cross-section of the community. There are plans for Cantonese-speaking theatre groups to stage their productions at Le Rideau. Children are being catered to with poetry fun days featuring a low-priced children's menu.

'We had a really great response to the children's day and are looking to expand that,' Budovitch says. 'After all, there's only so many times you can take the kids to Ocean Park or the beach.'

Companies can host presentations and other business events there, and individuals can hire it for private parties. The venue will even open on Mondays for private functions if there's enough demand.

Upcoming events include the world premiere later this month of Les Soeurs Cruelles presents Bonsoir Raymond, with sisters Isabelle Tanakil and Marie Lenoir from Paris. Hong Kong jazz musician Eugene Pao is booked next month and July, and African singer-songwriter Thierry Nkeli Faha will perform on several Sundays next month. DJs spin discs on Fridays and Saturdays.

Running Le Rideau is like riding a roller coaster at times, says Budovitch. 'We fly performers in, we put them up in hotels and, of course, it's always a risk. But it's worth it. The demand's there, so it's working.'

Le Rideau, 1/F Hilltop Plaza, 49 Hollywood Rd, SoHo, 11.30am-2am (except Mondays). Tel: 2850 8833