Images from Starlight history

Starlight Stories: The 1990s

As the 1980s concluded, Starlight Theatre had returned to financial solvency. Determined to grow and thrive as a new decade dawned, the theatre’s leadership and Board of Directors undertook efforts to bring continued improvement and positive change to the Starlight venue and operations throughout the 1990s.

Helping to fuel the activity was significant growth in Broadway ticket sales. At the outset of the decade in 1991, season ticket sales climbed to 20,000.

Phyllis Diller

That same year a box office record was set when Starlight’s production of The Wizard of Oz, starring funny lady Phyllis Diller as the Wicked Witch of the West, sold out all seven of its performances.

The show program for The Wizard of Oz called Diller “An irrepressible lady with an outrageous laugh.”

1993 launched a five-year $5 million capital improvement campaign. It was evident to Starlight’s management and board that the theatre was increasingly seen as a Kansas City landmark and cultural treasure and, thus, needed financial support for its continued success. Starlight formed a unique partnership with the City of Kansas City, Mo., that allowed it to utilize both private and public funds to improve the historic venue.

The 1994 season included Marie Osmond making her theater debut as Maria in The Sound of Music. By this time, Marie had been in show business for thirty years, beginning at the age of 3 on The Andy Williams Show. At the age of 14, she was the youngest person ever to co-host a weekly variety television show on The Donny and Marie Show. Marie’s son played Kurt in the production.

The rest of the 1994 season was filled with household names including Rue McClanahan as Miss Hannigan in Annie and Jennifer Holliday in Dreamgirls. Holliday was joined by pre-Hamilton star Renée Elise Goldsberry who played one of The Stepp Sisters. The Broadway season ended with the Andrew Lloyd Webber smash Cats. Concerts included a sold-out night with Greek composer and 90s sensation Yanni, as well as Natalie Cole and Barry Manilow.

Helzberg Fountain

Shirley Helzberg served as president of the Starlight Theatre Association from 1991 through 1994 and along with her husband, Barnett, donated $1 million toward constructing The Shirley Bush Helzberg Garden of the Stars.

In 1997, the picturesque fountain was dedicated. With its flowing cascades of water, the Helzberg fountain welcomes guests entering Starlight’s east gates and is a favorite photo and resting spot for many who attend. Other improvements that greeted guests in 1997 were a new main box office and expanded Applause Club restaurant on Starlight’s east side.

As venue expansion continued in the 1990s, it became apparent that the Starlight stage needed more advanced improvements. To stay competitive with theatre companies around the country, Starlight’s outdoor stage would need to be able to host national touring productions. Recognizing this need, the construction of a new covered stage house was proposed

A contribution from two very generous individuals went a long way toward making the dream of a new stage a real possibility. A gift of more than $1 million from Jeannette and Jerome Cohen gave Starlight the backing it needed to advance the project. The news left longtime Starlight fans eager to see what the next decade – and new millennium – would usher in.

Read About Other Decades at Starlight

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