Kansas City Strip

Size matters: The game of “mine’s bigger than yours” between the Theatre League and Starlight Theatre has seen Starlight winning all the glory this summer. But that may have taken a turn last week, with the news that the Music Hall, the Theatre League’s home for Broadway tours, likely will get an upgrade of its own. It seems that Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates, the design team behind the recent rehabilitation of New York City’s Radio City Music Hall, will be in Kansas City this fall to see what kind of magic it can spin in these parts.

Theatre League president Mark Edelman began his aria lamenting the city-owned Music Hall’s flaws as soon as he moved the company from the Midland. The depth of the stage was a big complaint, and its shallowness led Starlight to snag Miss Saigon away from the downtown venue. Following in Saigon‘s footsteps was Fosse, which Edelman thinks was more a Theatre League kind of show.

The competiton for shows will continue apace. Edelman says that for 2001-02 he’s got Titanic, Cabaret, and Contact — “I’d hate to see Contact at Starlight,” he says. Meanwhile, Starlight fans swear that the Kiss Me, Kate tour will appear there next summer. Starlight chief Bob Rohlf denies this and says it’s premature to announce any of next summer’s shows (and that show’s tour itinerary reveals that it’s booked from mid-June to October with no Kansas City dates in sight). What won’t soon abate is the crowing about whose stage will be bigger.

After an August 31 meeting with City Architect Tom Bean, Edelman says he’ll get an increased stage depth of around 60 feet. Should all the dominoes fall in a row, the Music Hall will have the largest stage in the city.

Edelman says the Theatre League has raised $1 million toward the eventual enlargement. “If it cost $10 million (an allusion to the cost of Starlight’s renovation), we’ll raise $10 million.”

“More power to them,” Rohlf says. “It doesn’t freak me out.”

Edelman says the city is committed to the building, one of three downtown in that almost-deco style; the others are City Hall and the courthouse. The Music Hall got new carpet this summer — Edelman calls it “decoesque progressive” — and he says tardy patrons will get to see the show on monitors until the proper interval for them to enter the theater.

Of Starlight’s glossy season, Edelman says he was “impressed that they undertook a new musical (Prince and the Pauper) and pleased as a fan of musical theater. It’s something we could do in our other Theatre League cities. I have admiration for them.”

But he also acknowledges that Starlight’s reputation as the city’s family theater took a beating this summer, given the letters it and The Kansas City Star received from patrons shocked at Miss Saigon‘s frank language and themes. “I think they learned that some shows are inappropriate for family audiences,” Edelman says.

“We anticipated some of that, and I don’t want to take away the importance of those opinions,” Rohlf says. “Even with the ‘You silly ass’ line in Peter Pan, we get letters. Every show we do is not appropriate for the entire family.”

Rohlf would only say of the fervor to book the most noteworthy shows: “The industry has always known Starlight’s there and Theatre League is there. But they’re different.”

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