Music Circus, the oldest professional theater company in Sacramento, is the one that that seems to have to worry least about attendance. People who attended in the earliest days brought children, then grandchildren and are now probably into a third generation of audience members.
Relatively few changes have been made to the type of programming over the years because they haven’t had to be made. Audiences know what they like and Music Circus delivers.
The new season will begin June 20 with the Walt Disney classic “Beauty and the Beast” and continue through August 27 with the closing performance of “Sister Act,” which is based on the Whoopi Goldberg movie.
Sacramento Music Circus was born in 1951 in a tent in the parking lot of the Civic Repertory Theater, an amateur troupe founded by Eleanor McClatchy of the Sacramento Bee McClatchys. She was a — perhaps the — Sacramento arts supporter of the time.
The Bee gradually abandoned local arts support, but theater-goers owe Eleanor McClatchy much. It was she who convinced two Broadway producers, Russell Lewis and Howard Young, to create the Sacramento Music Circus, formally incorporated as the Sacramento Light Opera Association (SLOA) in 1953.
It was the first in-the-round musical theater west of the Mississippi and only the fourth in the whole country. It was a hot ticket from the beginning — and I do mean hot. It could get intense in the tent in Sacramento in the summertime. But audiences flocked. In the early days, television and movie stars appeared in Music Circus productions, as did such up-and-comers as Joanne Worley, Madeline Kahn, Eileen Brennan and Joel Grey, no less, as Huck Finn in “Tom Sawyer” in 1960.
Productions continued in the canvas tent until 2002 — making it the last of its kind. In 2003, still on the same site as the original tent, Music Circus (aka California Musical Theatre) opened the Wells Fargo Pavilion, keeping the arena-style seating but adding such indoor comforts as air conditioning.
CMT is now under the direction of President & CEO Richard Lewis (son of founder Russell Lewis). The Artistic Consultant is Glenn Casale, who is so admired by the Disney Company that he has been asked to stage most the Disney musicals as they move from screen to stage.
Single-show tickets are now on sale for the five shows on this summer’s Music Circus schedule. Prices range from $45 to $80. For more information, call (916) 557-1999 or go to sacramentomusiccircus.com.
Here are the shows and dates for the 2017 summer season:
Beauty and the Beast
June 20-July 2. The only show this season to run longer than one week, this Disney classic will feature costumes from director Glenn Casale’s European tour of the production.
On the Town
July 11-16. Recently revived on Broadway, this musical hasn’t been performed at Music Circus since 1961. The score is by Leonard Bernstein.
9 to 5
July 25-30. This is the first time at Music Circus for the Broadway musical created by Dolly Parton.
Aug. 8-13. This clever musical is about a man who sells his soul to the devil for the chance to lead his beloved Washington Senators over the New York Yankees. It features the unforgettable tune “Whatever Lola Wants.”
Aug. 22-27. Based on the movie of the same name and starring Whoopi Goldberg, this is the story of a mobster’s former girlfriend who enters witness protection — in a convent.
Photo courtesy California Musical Theatre archives