California Musical Theatre

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California Musical Theatre
Wells Fargo Pavilion 2.JPG
The Wells Fargo Pavilion, California Musical Theatre's home for the Sacramento Music Circus


Formerly known as the Sacramento Light Opera Association
Type Theatre group
Purpose Broadway Musicals
  • 15th and H St Sacramento California

California Musical Theatre is the largest nonprofit arts organization (primarily producing musical theatre) in the state of California and the city of Sacramento's oldest professional performing arts organization.[1] Its summer stock theatre, Music Circus, has been producing Broadway-style musicals since 1951.[2]

In 2002 Music Circus produced its last season under a traditional canvas circus tent. The following year California Musical Theatre opened the Wells Fargo Pavilion. Built over the original concrete tent foundations, the new facility was designed to emulate a circus tent to continue the Music Circus tradition of a canvas big top. The enclosed, permanent architecture of the arena theatre is covered by an insulated space-age fabric.


Rehearsal of "Showboat" at Sacramento Music Circus 2001

In 1949 the original Music Circus began its operations in a vacant field in Lambertville, New Jersey. Begun by St. John Terrell as a summer stock theatre hybrid,[3] mixing musical theatre within a circus tent, the new musical theatre performed in the round. The unique experience gained popularity through the 1950s and 1960s.[4] Theatres copied the format and name, eventually spawning similar Music Circus theatres along the East Coast as far south as Miami.

In California, producers Russell Lewis and Howard Young began scouting a location to build their theater and were lured to Sacramento by Sacramento Bee president Eleanor McClatchy. The theatre opened with a production of Show Boat, the same show which opened the original Lambertville theatre as well as the North Shore Music Theatre.[2] In 1951 the Sacramento Music Circus tent went up for the first time under the operations of what was originally known as the Sacramento Light Opera Association. McClatchy had been a patron of the Sacramento Civic Theatre (now known as Sacramento Theatre Company). Its facility had a large parking area that would be the home to the original Music Circus tent.

Music Circus[edit]

The Music Circus stage inside the Wells Fargo Pavilion in 2011

From 1951 to 1989 the summer Music Circus program was the only season produced by the Sacramento Light Opera Association. Most of those years under the direction of Lewis and Young. Its summer stock performances have been located in nearly the same location since its conception. Actors, directors and designers from all across the country travel to Sacramento to build productions entirely original. The current executive producer, Richard Lewis, is the son of the original producer Russell Lewis. Sacramento Music Circus was once one of many summer stock musical theatres performing in the round. Today it is now one of only a few professional theatres producing musicals in an arena setting.

Broadway Sacramento[edit]

Originally known as the Music Circus Winter Season and later as The Broadway Series, these shows are performed during Music Circus' "off season". Generally, these are touring productions of current musicals performed at the Community Center Theatre. Starting in 1989, the series of shows has included The Unsinkable Molly Brown, The Phantom of the Opera, Chicago and The Producers. California Musical Theatre is a founding member of the National Alliance for Musical Theatre and Executive Producer Richard Lewis is a member of the League of American Theatres and Producers. The early part of Lewis' career was spent on Broadway, where he produced original shows. Among them was one by Roger's & Hammerstein.


California Musical Theatre (CMT) employees operates under contracts with Actors' Equity Association, the union for professional actors and stage managers in the United States; the theatrical trade union IATSE; the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society; and the American Federation of Musicians. During the summer Music Circus season, crews are augmented with student interns and community volunteers.

Many notable Broadway, performers and designers have worked with CMT throughout the years. Music Circus has been the start for a number of actors, singers, musicians, designers and administrators that have become well known throughout the national theatrical community and mainstream America through the music and television industries.


  1. ^ "About California Musical Theatre Corporation". American City Business Journals. Retrieved 2008-12-28. [dead link]
  2. ^ a b Avella, Steven M. (September 15, 2003). Sacramento: Indomitable City (CA) (Making of America). Arcadia Publishing. pp. 137. ISBN 978-0-7385-2444-3. 
  3. ^ Wilmeth and Miller, Don B. and Tice L. (1996). Cambridge Guide to American Theatre. Cambridge University Press. p. 370. ISBN 978-0-521-56444-1. 
  4. ^ "General Roundup of Summer Theatre", Theatre Arts magazine, July 1956, John D. MacArthur, publisher