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Starlight Theatre is a 7,958-seat 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’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.
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.
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 in December 1949. While the theatre was still unfinished for the city’s 1950 centennial anniversary, a historical revue of the city, Thrills of a Century, was presented.
In 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, Jerry Lewis paid for a stage extension that covered the orchestra pit. 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 Jeannette and Jerome Cohen Community Stage in 2000.
During the 1960s production of the musical Mr. President, President Harry S. Truman made a guest appearance in the opening night show. An attack of appendicitis forced Truman to leave Starlight by ambulance during the intermission.
Starlight is one of two self-producing outdoor theatres in the U.S.
The addition of the Jeannette and Jerome Cohen Community Stage in 2000 made it one of the largest roadhouses in the country. Starlight began presenting major national tours in 2000 to bring more recent and contemporary Broadway musicals to Kansas City.
Starlight Theatre hosted Great Plains musicians Melissa Etheridge (from Kansas) in ’94, Sheryl Crow (from southern Missouri) in ’08, 311 (band) from Omaha in ’13, and The Fray from Denver in ’09