2015-05-08 CATEGORY: Starlight
In each issue of “On the Spot” from now through September, we are sharing selected highlights from each decade of Starlight Theatre. The following is excerpted from Making Memories for 50 Years, a Starlight commemorative magazine published in 2000.
Richard Hill Berger, Starlight’s first theatre manager and producing director, took the reins in 1951 and continued as producing director through 1971. Through the 1950s, Starlight produced 10 shows each summer. In 1960 and ’61, the number dropped to nine shows, and from 1962 through the rest of the decade, the annual show count held at eight.
Starlight Theatre’s nine-show 1960 season featured Rose-Marie, Kismet, Annie Get Your Gun, The Pajama Game, The Student Prince, The Merry Widow, West Side Story (Starlight’s first “touring book musical” and the first of three times it would play at Starlight that decade), Meet Me in St. Louis and The King and I.
Two years later, Starlight recorded its highest-ever weekly attendance for a variety show. The Carol Burnett Show played July 9-15, 1962, and its leading lady surely left all 55,142 audience members laughing the entire drive home.
Richard Berger had a knack for adding surprising twists to his productions, and he definitely showed it during the 1960s. For example, he convinced a couple of “celebrities” to make cameo appearances in opening-night performances of Starlight shows – President Harry S. Truman took the stage on Aug. 3, 1964, in Mr. President and Ewing Kauffman stepped up for Damn Yankees five summers later. While Mr. K’s night apparently went well, President Truman was not as lucky. He left at intermission – in an ambulance suffering an appendicitis attack!
Advertising in Starlight’s 1960s programs had some surprising twists, too. Opposite the Cast of Characters page in several 1960 season programs, you could find the “Cast of Cigarettes” plugging Philip Morris, Marlboro, Parliament, Alpine and Benson & Hedges brands. Other advertisers that may stir a few readers’ memories included Jenkins Music, Putsch’s Cafeteria, TWA The Superjet Airline and Dolly Madison Ice Cream.
In 1960, the Starlight Board of Directors had 181 members (today it has fewer than 40), and the highest-priced show ticket was $4.
By 1969, the price for Box and Orchestra seats had risen to $5, but a general admission seat could still be had for $1. In those days, Starlight tickets could also be purchased at 20 branch reservation offices, including at locations of Capitol Federal Savings, Sears stores and even Vesto TV.
While Starlight continued to dazzle audiences with name stars and glitzy productions through the ‘60s, annual attendance was on a decline and performers’ salaries were climbing. And it certainly didn’t help matters that the summer of 1969 was a wet one – six performances were cancelled and patrons stayed away on other nights when rain threatened.
As a business, Starlight was losing money as a new decade, the 1970s, waited in the wings.
We invite newsletter readers and Starlight guests to share their own memories of special Starlight nights by firstname.lastname@example.org or mailing Starlight Theatre, Attn: Barb Schulte, 4600 Starlight Road, Kansas City, MO 64132. We would particularly appreciate photographs with full caption information.