Starlight Theatre (Kansas City, Missouri)

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Starlight Theatre
Starlight Theatre Stage.jpg
Location 4600 Starlight Road
Kansas City, Missouri 64132
Coordinates 39°00′28″N 94°32′05″W / 39.007813°N 94.5348°W / 39.007813; -94.5348Coordinates: 39°00′28″N 94°32′05″W / 39.007813°N 94.5348°W / 39.007813; -94.5348
Owner City of Kansas City, Missouri
Operator Starlight Theatre Association
Live Nation (concert booking)
Capacity Starlight: 7,958
Cohen: 1,200
Broke ground 1925
Opened June 25, 1951
Construction cost $1.5 million
Architect Edward Buehler Delk
Broadway Shows
Starlight Indoors
Theatre Education Programming

Starlight Theatre is a 7,958-seat [1] outdoor theatre in Kansas City, Missouri, United States that presents Broadway shows and concerts. It is one of the two major remaining self-producing outdoor theatres in the U.S. and Starlight's Cohen stagehouse also permits it to present many national Broadway touring shows.


Starlight Theatre stage.

Starlight Theatre’s story dates back to 1925, the year Romania’s Queen Marie paid a visit to Kansas City. To celebrate her arrival, the Kansas City Federation of Music organized a showcase of local talent for the Queen that was also open to the public. While Kansas Citians had toyed with the idea of building an outdoor theatre before, the $7,000 that the showcase raised made it clear that Kansas City had an audience for such performances and that outdoor theatre could one day become a Kansas City tradition.

Profits from the showcase were then placed in the city trust and proposals for the location of Kansas City’s outdoor theatre began. One suggested site was where Kansas City Art Institute now stands, but area residents disapproved of building such a large structure in their neighborhood. Another possible location was just north of University of Missouri–Kansas City, although these plans were also shelved because officials feared the theatre would compete with the newly completed Municipal Auditorium (Kansas City).

After 15 years of proposals, the need for a venue to house celebrations commemorating Kansas City’s 100th birthday sped up the process. A committee was quickly chosen, Swope Park was deemed the location, and construction began on a cold December day in 1949. While the theatre was still unfinished for the city’s 1950 centennial anniversary, the show went on, and thousands of Kansas Citians flocked to see the historical revue of their city, Thrills of a Century. The show’s success then proved to be the perfect spark of motivation for completing Starlight and beginning the tradition of bringing Broadway to Kansas City. Community volunteers helped raise money and establish theatre policy; local craftsmen donated their time to finishing construction, and Starlight Theatre as we know it was born.

That same year (1950), the Starlight Theatre Association of Kansas City, Inc., was formed as a 501(c)(3) not for profit corporation to operate, program and maintain professional theatre in our community.

In 1958, Starlight Theatre received a generous boost from Jerry Lewis. During an opening night performance, Lewis found the distance between performer and audience limiting. He then proposed to theatre personnel that they extend the stage so it covered the orchestra pit. When Starlight officials explained they could not finance the project, Lewis himself paid the cost. Although the extension was temporary for Lewis’ show only, the idea was a good one. In the early 1980s the stage was permanently extended over the orchestra pit, bringing on stage action closer to the audience. This extension lasted until the building of the 10-story, climate controlled Jeannette and Jerome Cohen Community Stage in 2000.

Another highlight in the history of Starlight Theatre came in a 1960s production of the musical Mr. President. Starlight’s producer, Richard Berger, who always had a knack for adding pizzazz to his shows, swayed President Harry S. Truman to make a guest appearance in the opening night show. Berger’s casting of Truman was a sensation, although an attack of appendicitis forced Truman to leave Starlight by ambulance during the intermission.[2]

In 1981, the Theatre League brought locally produced shows back to the Starlight stage. That season saw "Grease". "Oliver!", "Camelot", and "West Side Story". Starring in these shows were Andrea McArdle, Orson Bean, Noel Harrison, and Barry Williams.

The highly successful Director/Choreographer team of Jack Allison and Helen Butleroff worked at the theatre from 1984 to 1993. This pair provided many innovative, crowd pleasing productions on the huge Starlight stage. Shows included Jesus Christ Superstar, Oliver!, Hair, Camelot, The Wizard of Oz, Sweet Charity, and West Side Story with stars such as Davy Jones, David Cassidy, Donna Murphy, Phyllis Diller, Georgia Engel, Roman Seinkiewicz, and others. During this period Rob Marshall, Susan Schulman, Thom Warren, and Michael Lichtefeld handled directing and choreography duties.

Since then, Starlight Theatre has steadily remained a staple of Kansas City’s performing arts community and a favorite for those looking for summer-time family-oriented entertainment. There were once 38 other self-producing outdoor theatres in the U.S., today only two major ones remain, making Starlight a landmark not just for Kansas City, but also the whole country.[3][4]

The addition of the Jeannette and Jerome Cohen Community Stage in 2000 put a roof over the Starlight stage and gave Starlight increased technical capability making it one of the largest roadhouses in the country. So in addition to producing its own shows, Starlight began presenting major national tours in 2000 to bring more recent and contemporary Broadway musicals to Kansas City as well as share its productions with indoor theatres around the country. Starlight opened the 2000 season with the national tour of Miss Saigon with its famous Huey helicopter. Shortly after Starlight Theatre partnered with Live Nation, the largest concert promoter in the country to present a concert series. This increased production versatility has continued to make Starlight Theatre a summer favorite for residents and visitors alike.

Broadway Show History[edit]

1951 1952 1953 1954 1955 1956
1957 1958 1959 1960 1961 1962
1963 1964 1965 1966 1967 1968
1969 1970 1971 1972 1973 1974
1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980
1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986
1987 1988 1989
  • Bye Bye Birdie
  • Annie
  • The King and I
  • Fiddler on the Roof
  • Oklahoma!
  • Camelot
  • West Side Story
  • Brigadoon
1991 1992
  • The Music Man
  • Peter Pan
  • Show Boat
  • Hello Dolly!
  • Big River
  • Oliver!
  • 42nd Street
  • Annie Get Your Gun
  • Tommy Tune Tonight
1994 1995 1996 1997 1998
1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
  • Cats
  • Annie
  • The King and I
  • Camelot
  • Chicago
2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
2011 2012 2013 2014[5] 2015 2016


Current Season[edit]

The 2017 season at Starlight will feature:

See also[edit]

References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ Technical Specifications
  2. ^ Roe, Dr. Jason. "Starry, Starry Nights". The Kansas City Public Library. Retrieved 3 June 2015. 
  3. ^ Starlight Theatre History
  4. ^ Cole, Suzanne P.; Engle, Tim; Winkler, Eric (April 23, 2012). "50 things every Kansas Citian should know". Kansas City Star. Retrieved April 23, 2012. 
  5. ^ "Starlight Theatre Announces 2014 Broadway Season". Retrieved 3 June 2015. 
  6. ^ Starlight Theatre Show History

External links[edit]