In issues of “On The Spot” in 2015, we are sharing selected highlights from each decade of Starlight Theatre. Portions of this article are excerpted from Making Memories for 50 Years, a Starlight commemorative magazine published in 2000.
As the century turned and the new millennium dawned, Starlight was ready to celebrate its 50th anniversary with a big present for audience members and performers – a grand new stage!
The summer of 2000 heralded the opening of the $10 million Jeannette and Jerome Cohen Community Stage, named in honor of the generous couple who contributed more than $1 million toward its creation. Standing 10 stories tall and encompassing 12,000 square feet, the new stage was climate-controlled, fully enclosed and had the bells and whistles needed to attract megahit Broadway touring productions. Starlight booked the national tours of both Miss Saigon and Fosse into the stage’s first season, and 227,638 guests turned out to see that Broadway season’s five shows.
Broadway producers took notice of the new, expansive outdoor stage in Kansas City. So much so that they chose Starlight as the site for the national tour launches of 42nd Street in 2002 and Thoroughly Modern Millie in 2003.
Construction of the new stage raised the bar and spurred a decade of facility growth and enhancement at Starlight. To bring other areas of the theatre campus up to date, Starlight launched its $15.25 million Future Generations Campaign in 2003. The donations received from 571 individuals, organizations and foundations gave Starlight the capital capacity to make important physical changes in annual phases from 2005 through 2007. Highlights of the building boom included:
- Phase 1: East Side Concessions and Restrooms (2005) – Following demolition of outdated and undersized restroom and concession facilities, Starlight guests arrived that summer to find new structures that housed 45 new women’s restrooms, 28 new men’s restrooms, 21 new points of sale for concessions on two levels, and the 3,600-square-foot casual seating and dining area known the Encore Deck.
- Phase 2: Southwest Court and Backstage Improvements (2006) – Starlight performers, staff and patrons all benefited from the project that resulted in air-conditioned indoor rehearsal spaces (Berger Hall and Jeter Music Room), the Applause Club, Ovation gift shop and Starlight administrative offices. Dressing rooms and wardrobe facilities were also renovated.
- Phase 3: North Side Improvements (2007) – This final phase of development enclosed the theatre’s north lawn, built two open-air pavilions for use by patrons and groups, added northwest Gate 4, and introduced the Anita B. Gorman Court of Honor to recognize her years of dedicated support of Starlight, as well as all of the donors to the successful capital campaign.
The mid-2000s also saw significant growth in performing arts education at Starlight. New programs introduced in 2006 that continue to today include the Starlight STARS of Tomorrow performance troupe, the Vincent Legacy Scholarship program, and the ever-popular Act Like An Animal Camp.
As the decade neared its end, its leader for nearly three decades – President and Executive Producer Bob Rohlf – decided it was time for his own curtain call. When Rohlf retired after the 2008 Broadway season, he left knowing that he had pulled Starlight back from the brink of financial ruin in the early 1980s, preserved its cherished history and equipped it with the facilities, amenities and programs that will attract Kansas City theatre-goers for decades to come.