St. George Musical Theater makes triumphant return; new venue, shows

(L-R) Executive director Bruce Bennett, artistic director Juli Weist and board president Dan Olsen at a press conference announcing the return of St. George Musical Theater, St. George, Utah, March 29, 2014 | Photo by Alexa Verdugo Morgan, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – At a press conference on Saturday, St. George Musical Theater announced its comeback from a hiatus wrought with financial and organizational difficulties. The group will produce a roster of new shows starting this fall at the historic St. George Opera House.

“It’s been a long, tough road. We have waited over five years to say ‘welcome back,’” executive director Bruce Bennett said. “We are thrilled to say that SGMT has awakened from its slumber, and a new day is dawning for community theater in St. George.”

St. George Musical Theater's production of "Forever Plaid," St. George, Utah, 2005 | Photo courtesy of Bruce Bennett
St. George Musical Theater’s production of “Forever Plaid,” St. George, Utah, 2005 | Photo courtesy of Bruce Bennett

The announcement was received with robust applause from an audience of some 50 community members, including St. George Mayor Jon Pike and Councilman Joe Bowcutt.

“The news that SGMT is hoping to re-establish is extremely exciting to me,” St. George resident Maggie Yunker said. “The opportunity to have a community theater again that people of all ages can participate in, whether it be on stage, behind the scenes or as a patron, is wonderful and much-needed. It will allow the arts program in the city to grow, and in turn give future generations a chance to build a love of the theater.”

“I believe for the adversity that SGMT has gone through over the years, even from its inception, that the amount of good it does and will do is immense,” actor, producer and director John Kessler said. “There is no doubt in my mind that there is something grand in store for this theater.”

The group’s dedication and sheer relief at this mighty leap forward were proudly displayed during a presentation of SGMT’s highlights since its foundation in 1988. Bennett and artistic director Juli Weist, along with some in the audience, became very emotional.

“You didn’t think you’d come to a theatrical press conference and not get a few theatrics, did you?” Dan Olsen, president of the SGMT Board of Directors, joked.

The debut show of the season is “The Sound of Music,” directed by Southern Utah native and Pine View High School theatre director Ani Rogers. SGMT will also perform “The Odd Couple,” “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” “The Music Man” and “Moonlight and Magnolias,” along with Christmas and New Year’s Eve specials. Additionally, a small-scale “test” production is planned for the summer.

Shows are expected to run September through April. Schedules and ticket information will soon be announced on the St. George Musical Theater website.

“It’s another place where we can have wholesome entertainment,” St. George Councilman Jimmie Hughes said. “I think it’s important.”

St. George Musical Theater's production of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," St. George, Utah, 2007 | Photo courtesy of Bruce Bennett
St. George Musical Theater’s production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” St. George, Utah, 2007 | Photo courtesy of Bruce Bennett

Community members interested in getting involved with the group may attend open auditions for “The Sound of Music” on May 17.

Volunteers are also needed. From lighting and design to marketing and ticket counting, virtually any skill set is helpful.

“It takes a village to make a show,” Bennett said.

Though the St. George Opera House, which has previously hosted SGMT productions, is only a temporary venue, the group requested upwards of $50,000 worth of modifications when the City of St. George passed the official budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year last June. Lighting, seating and sound will be upgraded in the coming weeks.

The building will remain available for other events when SGMT isn’t rehearsing or performing, roughly half the year. Meanwhile, the city and theater are working together to find something suitable for a permanent home.

The city is also sponsoring the production of “The Sound of Music.” In return, a portion of the purchase price of every ticket throughout the season will be donated to a community arts fund the city will use to support organizations like SGMT.

By returning to the Opera House, an icon of downtown St. George dating back to 1875, SGMT will be part of an ongoing legacy of community enrichment.

“Performances have been going on here for almost 150 years,” Mark Speener of St. George Community Arts said. “This is an original, historic performance venue. There’s history here.”

St. George Musical Theater's production of "Man of La Mancha," St. George, Utah, 2009 | Photo courtesy of Bruce Bennett
St. George Musical Theater’s production of “Man of La Mancha,” St. George, Utah, 2009 | Photo courtesy of Bruce Bennett

“The city has shown trust in our small but very passionate organization, and we’re very grateful,” Bennett said. “We promise to be good tenants in this very important building.”

SGMT was the dream of Mark Odgen, whose untimely death in 1994 threatened to bring it to an end. But under the direction of Dawna and Don Kenworthy, the group not only persevered, but flourished, appealing to a diverse audience and collection of artists with performances of theatre classics including “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Guys and Dolls,” “Oklahoma!” and “Annie.”

“We went to practically all their shows from 2003 on. The people that live in this area are so talented, and we need a place to showcase them,” Washington City resident Cheryl Rogers-Barnett said. Rogers-Barnett is no stranger to the likes of theater, being the daughter of Western TV and film legends Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, and a child actress herself. “We thoroughly enjoyed what the musical theater offers,” she said. “We’d be delighted to go back and watch them.”

Since SGMT’s final performance at the former Dixie State College of Utah in 2009, the group and city have struggled to find a solution that works for both. The Electric Theater was a possibility, but ended up as one of many bumps in a lengthy road.

“Five years after our last production, folks are anxiously talking about it, the city (leaders) still deliberate it, a major foundation endorses it and the local papers still consider it newsworthy,” Kessler said. “How does that happen? It’s because SGMT has never died and never gone away. For that, the community owes Bruce Bennett and Dan Olsen a lot of praise for their tenacity and patience in keeping this gem alive.”

“This is just the beginning,” Bennett said. “This is where SGMT starts again.”

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  • Bruce Bennett March 29, 2014 at 10:40 pm

    Thank you Alexa and St. George News for your exceptional coverage and reporting!

  • Maudie Fricker March 30, 2014 at 3:25 pm

    Um…hello…what about the Electric Theatre.. The SG Opera House is so difficult for parking etc…why not somewhere where us older folks can get in and out easily…

  • Bruce April 2, 2014 at 10:35 am

    Maudie: The Electric Theater will not likely be ready for much of anything for 2-3 years. And have you been to the Opera House since they added parking? Don’t forget — there is plenty of parking across the street at the Post Office which is available because our performances are mostly at night! And remember — this is only a temporary home for us! Come out and support SGMT we promise it will be worth it! ~BB

  • Question July 19, 2014 at 7:18 pm

    Looks like you have a busy season. How did you acquire the Opera House and what kind of lease do you have on it?

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