Theater groups from all over the United States are joining forces with Kansas City’s oldest and largest musical performance venue, Starlight Theatre, to co-produce three of the six musicals this summer. Plus Starlight serves as lead producer on one. Starlight marks 63 seasons with the six shows for the 2013 season.
Monty Python’s Spamalot, in early June, was the first co-production with Theatre Under the Stars in Houston. One of the leads, Janine DiVita, played the Lady of the Lake. She grew up in Overland Park, Kan. She took dance at Miller-Marley School of Dance and Voice and performed locally before heading to New York and Broadway. Brian Sears, who played the role of Patsy, also has roots in the metropolitan area.
For Starlight President and Executive Producer Denton Yockey, Disney’s The Little Mermaid in late July will be not only the season’s family-friendly show, but the result of a significant coup for him. Disney, for some reason or another, decided to not tour the production after its successful run on Broadway during 2009. Only a handful of theaters have been able to produce it and this summer, the only co-production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid will be here, the Paper Mill Theatre in New Jersey and Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera’s Benedum Center in Pittsburgh, Penn.
“I can’t speak for Disney or their thought processes. National tours of The Lion King or Beauty and the Beast have done well. And audiences know the Alan Menken songs. Under the Sea won an Oscar,” he says. “I have been in contact with the Disney folks for years. When they released the rights, I knew we had to pursue it. When I talked to (senior vice president) Carol Edelson at Musical Theatre International, one of the top theatrical licensing agencies, she wanted to put a few people together for a co-production. That’s when I started a dialogue with the producing artistic director at Paper Mill, Mark Hoebee. The idea is that such a large scale show like this is expensive. Sharing with a couple of other theaters helps us amortize the costs over a number of playing weeks. There’s really no other way to do a show this size from scratch. It’s going to be of Broadway scale.”
Yockey says touring Broadway-sized shows are brought in with Broadway Across America and Theater League to Kansas City. The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts has a stage that can handle fly systems and larger scenery. “Sure, most of the venues in the city do musicals. We are in great company with the Kansas City Rep, the Coterie, the Barn Players, the Unicorn and the American Heartland.”
On Broadway, the actors in The Little Mermaid wore roller skates to depict life under the sea. In this version, roller skates have been replaced with flying scenes. Paul Rubin who perfected the flying techniques for Cathy Rigby in Peter Pan has created the fly scenes for this production.
In his tenure at Starlight, four productions are the most he has produced in one season. Most years, it’s one or two shows. “There was no plan to this; it comes down to programming and finding shows to round out a great season that will reach a relatively diverse audience. While Flashdance is a touring show, it’s also a pre-Broadway tour as the producers want to take the musical to Broadway. It was also available and fun. Miss Saigon is our classic.”
Footloose, the original movie hit in 1984 and the remake came out in 2011, will appeal to two generations, Yockey says. First to those adults who grew up in the 1980s and to those young tweens and teens who saw the recent remake. Starlight is producing the musical in early August with a combination of local actors including a significant youth ensemble. These younger dancers were selected from the schools that participate in the Blue Star program.
The final show of the season, Miss Saigon, runs in early September with Starlight serving as lead producer with help from the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford, Conn., Detroit’s Fisher Theatre and St. Paul’s Ordway Theater. “It will pay homage to the original production, but we know there will be a different flavor.”