Theatre industry veteran Rich Baker joined Starlight Theatre as President and CEO in mid-March. He recently took a few minutes to share some insights into his life, interests and initial impressions of Kansas City and Starlight.
Q. After 27 years with the Fox Theatre in St. Louis, why Starlight?
A. Although I truly loved my time at the Fox in St. Louis, when the opportunity to run this beautiful and iconic outdoor theatre came my way, it simply seemed the right time to make a move. After I met the tremendous staff and board of directors, that sealed the deal. I was able to leave the Fox at the top of my game, with great memories and lasting friendships, which is all anyone can ask for. Now, I’m ready to make new friends and memories here in Kansas City.
Q. What do you consider your top three accomplishments professionally and/or personally?
A. I would have to list my personal accomplishment of marrying my wonderful wife, Peggy, and raising two pretty incredible sons first, because if that’s all I accomplished in life, I would still be a happy man. However, I was also blessed to be able to take the Fox from a struggling theatre that was losing money back in the early 1980s to the successful landmark institution it is today. Finally, I was able to do all that while making far more friends than enemies. A wise man once told me that a good deal is one where both parties end up winners. I have tried to live my life this way and I have never once regretted it.
Q. Tell us about your family.
A. My wife, Peggy, and I will celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary this May. We met as teenagers when we performed with a musical group in St. Louis called Sing Out Florissant Valley (a local version of the “Up With People” group). Peggy currently works at Memorial Hospital in Belleville, Ill., and will be joining me here in Kansas City as soon as we sell our home in St. Louis (which we hope will be very soon!). My two sons, ages 27 and 30, are happily married and have blessed us with a grandson and four granddaughters, all under the age of 6. My sons and their families live in St. Louis, so I expect we’ll be making the cross-state drive on a fairly regular basis.
Q. What will you miss most about St. Louis?
A. My family, my friends, the Fox and the Cardinals (not necessarily in that order)
Q. What has surprised you about Kansas City so far?
A. The people in Kansas City are so friendly and welcoming. From the woman at the dry cleaners, to the checkout person at the grocery store to the servers at the restaurants I’ve visited, their hospitality has been warm and inviting. Everyone goes out of their way to say Thank You. I see why the customer-service expectations at Starlight are so high; people in Kansas City are used to being treated well, and we must continually raise the bar for service and customer experience at our venue.
Q. Do you have a favorite show among the Starlight Broadway lineup this season?
A. I actually like them all, and I can say that without bias since they were all booked by my predecessor before he left. However, I would have to give the nod to Blue Man Group since I really think people who have not seen the show are in for a fun and surprising evening. I had a long history with Blue Man at the Fox, and they’ve played nightly at a Fox-operated theatre in Chicago for more than a decade.
Q. Which concert are you most looking forward to hearing under the stars at Starlight?
A. I’ll probably show my age a bit here, but one of my all-time favorites is James Taylor. That being said, we’ve got such a great lineup this summer, it’s hard to choose. You likely find me in the audience for Styx & Foreigner, Sarah McLachlan, Chicago & REO Speedwagon, and Alabama, too.
Q. What can Starlight patrons expect from you?
A. They can expect me to work very hard to earn their trust. My commitment is to do my best to book the shows that our audience members want to see and, then, give them exceptional customer service while they’re here so Starlight remains atop their “must do” list every summer. I would also love to see improvements made to the facility every year to make it a better experience each time our guests visit. I have some exciting new ideas I will be sharing with our board and staff, but that’s probably a topic for a future issue of “On The Spot.”
Q. What five things are on your “must experience” list during your first few months in Kansas City?
A. Barbecue has to be at the top of the list. It’s followed by a Chiefs game, seeing some of the city’s incredible parks and fountains, visiting the other local arts institutions and, finally, playing a round or two of golf at one of the great courses in the area.
What are Rich’s Favorites?
• Broadway musical? Wicked. The story is extremely clever and the music is exceptional!
• Music? I really like all types of music, but the artist that I most like to listen to right now is Pink. She has a range of musical styles that never ceases to surprise and amaze me.
• Food? Pizza
• TV show? Modern Family. It’s still one of the few shows that makes me laugh out loud.
• Way to spend a weekend? If the weather cooperates, doing something outdoors with family or friends.
• Theatre experience? Seeing The Lion King for the first time in New York. It was at the end of a very busy week, and I was actually dreading what I thought might be a “kid’s show.” However, I was blown away by the artistry of the show.