Theater of the Stars productions have been family favorites for decades, and it only seems fitting that the theater company will celebrate opening its 60th anniversary season with the treasured Peter Pan, starring Cathy Rigby.
“I love the idea that we are 60 years and still relevant and that we have done so much in the community,” states Christopher Manos, producer of Theater of the Stars.
The oldest regional theater company in the Southeast, the theater performed summer productions at the Chastain Park amphitheater, starting in 1953. Since that time, the theater was housed in a variety of locations before finally finding a home at the Fox Theatre. One constant remained though – a dedication to producing top quality musical theater.
In addition to producing their own local productions, the theater also hosts touring companies of Broadway shows during the season. “We are what is called stock and one of the few that are left that does it,” he says. Because of its status as a regional theater, many actors and actress have received their “big breaks” with the company.
In fact, Tony Award® nominated actor Mark Jacoby earned his equity card while performing with Theater of the Stars in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying in 1970 as a local actor. In addition to hundreds of local actors, high-profile celebrities have graced the stage in their productions, including Sandy Duncan, Dick Van Dyke, Angela Lansbury, Donny Osmond, George Burns and Sally Struthers.
When the theater began, there were not many theatrical productions being produced in the city. “I did plays when they weren’t being done,” Manos comments. As they grew, their influence on the cultural scene of the city deepened. “We started an African-American theater company when there was not one here. We started an opera company because the New York company stopped coming here, and we opened the Arts Center,” he explains.
The organization has played a part in creating the Atlanta Repertory Theater Company (now the Alliance Theatre), The Atlanta Opera Company, and the Atlanta Children’s Theater. Furthermore, it founded the Junior Theater Festival, which brings over 2,500 elementary, middle and high school students to Atlanta each year.
Producing musicals is “still magical” for Manos. He enjoys all aspects of bringing a show to the stage, and he is looking forward to this season’s productions, which include the National Tours of Peter Pan, The Addams Family and Mary Poppins as well as local productions of The Producers and The King and I.
To open this celebratory season, the theater will present the classic Peter Pan. Cathy Rigby stars in this touring production that has been delighting audiences around the country. “It is always a winner,” Manos says. “Before they ever set a schedule, they gave me a call and we appreciate that.”
Rigby, who received a 1991 Tony Award® Nomination for the role on Broadway, has been playing the role since 1990. Despite being 60, the former gymnast still flies and does her own stunt work in the musical. It is that fact that impresses Manos, who realizes that her popularity in the role hasn’t diminished over the years.
“She does all the stuff,” he mentions. “She comes out of the stage to the mezzanine and sits there and flies back to the stage. And, the audience goes nuts.”
Having this musical in the anniversary season’s lineup makes him proud. When discussing the show and its production value, he has nothing but accolades for the star and the expertise her production company brings to it.
“If you want to see a professional example of how a revival is done and see the progress of musical theater in its best form, come and see Peter Pan,” he says.
This season follows a simple formula that Manos has used since he started sixty years ago, and he feels that it has helped the company weather the recession. As someone who has seen Atlanta theater grow and change, he feels that Atlanta theater can make it through the storm as well by following the same advice. “We have to keep picking theater that people want to see,” Manos comments.
No one can deny the impact that Theater of the Stars has had on Atlanta theater. When asked about how he feels about that accomplishment Manos replies, “I am proud of so much of what we have done. We helped shape, in a small way, the arts in Atlanta. We are proud of that.”
By: Kenny Norton