Monday, February 10, 2020

MEDIA THEATRE'S GALA IS MARCH 28, 2020! Here Is A Bit Of The Theatre's History

The Media Theatre: 
26 Years of Professional Music Theatre!
"Theatre That Sings" Gala Event March 28, 2020

The interior of The Media Theatre, as it appeared 26 years ago prior to the opening night of "My Fair Lady"
It was 26 years ago that the marquee was illuminated with the first ever professional musical production in Media, “My Fair Lady”. A sold out crowd of Delaware County and Philadelphia’s most prominent personalities, politicians, and influential names attended the opening night. Before the majestic red curtain opened for the legendary musical’s first scene, Tony nominated Broadway actress Ann Crumb introduced “Philadelphia’s newest professional musical stage” to roaring applause.

Rockwell Productions, with Artistic Director Jesse Cline, was a for-profit entity at the time. Walter Strine, Sr. of Media Real Estate, had the vision to renovate the old movie house as a live performing arts center, and chose “My Fair Lady” as the first production in honor of his loving wife, Elizabeth.

As time passed, more legendary musicals were brought to the stage by Cline: “Carousel”, “Jesus Christ Superstar”, “Annie”, “South Pacific”, and famed operettas “The New Moon”, “Rose Marie”, and “The Student Prince” to name a few. Each season, within a 12 month period, six professional musicals were staged. Two of the most popular during the for-profit’s 7 years of productions were “Meet Me In St. Louis” and “42nd Street”, which brought in huge audiences of over 12,000 each. The musicals, prior to appearing at The Media Theatre, had shorter runs in Milton, PA, where the productions began.

During this time period, from 1994 forward, there was also a not-for-profit entity – The Society For the Performing Arts of The Media Theatre. The Society, through fundraising, produced The Media Theatre’s Children’s Series, Concerts, and Special Events.

In December of 2000, Rockwell Productions produced its final musical. Artistic Director Jesse Cline remained as the head of the non-profit entity (The Society for The Performing Arts). He and his life partner, Executive Director Patrick Ward, began producing professional musicals with the assistance of Walter Strine, Sr., so that The Media Theatre would continue to operate as a full-fledged Broadway style house for classic and new musicals.
The exterior of The Media Theatre in a recent photo
Since that time, every production produced by Cline and his staff has been under the auspices of the non-profit Society. It was Cline, Ward, and Strine’s wish that the marquee would continue to light up State Street as one of Philadelphia’s most popular music theatres.

As time went by, in 2003, Mr. Strine sold the historic Media Theatre with a combination of State and local grants to the Borough of Media. Mayor Bob McMahon became a conduit to the borough during this time period, working with Cline and Ward, in establishing a 30 year lease with the borough through the non-profit Society so that the award-winning musicals would continue to have a home.

As a non-profit professional music theatre company and with Jesse Cline as its visionary, The Media Theatre has become nationally recognized. Performers in its musicals have included Emmy Winner Wanda Sykes, who appeared as Miss Hannigan in 2010’s “Annie” (which is, to date, the theatre company’s most successful production ever). Other marquee names have included Tony nominee Ann Crumb (“Master Class”, “Wings”, “Souvenir”, “Sunset Boulevard”), American Idol’s Justin Guarini (“Chicago”), and the legendary Andrea McArdle (“Mame”, “Hello Dolly”).

There have also been Tony winners of note who have performed at the theatre’s annual Gala and benefit concerts: Betty Buckley, Judy Kaye, Il Divo’s David Miller, and Alice Ripley. Even Tony nominee Josh Young, a Delaware County native, entertained audiences on State Street.

A photo from "Mame" starring Broadway's legendary Andrea McArdle, which was on The Media Theatre stage in 2013.
Cline has led The Media Theatre to award-winning status with “Best Of” honors from The Philadelphia Inquirer, Delaware County Daily Times, Main Line Times, and Broadway World. On a national level, The New York Daily News referred to The Media Theatre as an ‘iconic cornerstone of Delaware County’.

The music theatre company has also been honored by The US Congress and The PA House of Representatives for its work with The State Street Miracles, a performance troupe of adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities that was created by Cline and Delco’s Patricia Cofiell in 2006. The Miracles are often referred to as “Great Ambassadors for Music Theatre and The Media Theatre” due to their moving performances.

An integral part of Cline’s vision and mission is the educational component of The Media Theatre. In the year 2000, as the company became a non-profit, he created and established Camp Media Theatre, a summer day camp learning experience for ages 5-14. Initially a four week camp, the summer event grew in popularity each year, and now offers ten weeks of camp (five two-week sessions).

From The Media Theatre's Teen Camp Musical three years ago, "School Of Rock", which also featured an ensemble of younger performers who portrayed 'the students'.

Camp Media Theatre expanded in 2002 to a Teen Broadway Camp in which camp participants rehearse and perform an entire two-act musical working with professional directors and designers. The first Teen Camp production, “West Side Story”, performed for only one weekend after a two-week rehearsal process. The productions sold out at the time, and since then the Teen Camp grew to a three-week rehearsal process and an entire month of weekend performances (four per weekend).

During the non-summer months, Cline created and still oversees The Media Theatre’s School of the Theatre. Acting Classes are offered for young children, as well as an intermediate level, a Tween Class, a Teen Class, and an Adult Class. There are Fall, Winter, and Spring sessions of Acting Class with each having over 60 students regularly.

Noticing that there was a need for a more exclusive type of learning experience for youth who had expressed a possible interest in the theatre as a career, Cline created the conservatory-style New School several years ago. Only up to 30 students are accepted into the New School each year, where they learn in a Master Class environment. Cline instructs the acting component of The New School, and Resident Music Director Ben Kapilow instructs the vocal music portion.

One of the most unique attributes of The Media Theatre’s educational programs is that the students involved are invited, several times a year, to participate in the theatre’s Children’s Series. There, they become involved in a rehearsal process as they begin to bring titles such as “Cinderella”, “Jack Frost”, and others to life on the stage utilizing their personalities within the context of the script. The Children’s Series shows are performed by the students, with one or two special guest adult actors, each weekend in front of general public audiences.

With all of these ingredients of a professional music theatre, The Media Theatre certainly adds more than a bright marquee to the borough of Media. It is the second largest employer in the borough, after the Court House, with its ever-changing cast of actors for each show, musical theatre orchestra pit performers, directors, designers, and box office staff. Audiences who attend the musicals and children’s shows often visit the local restaurants for lunch or dinner and browse the local shops. This includes the groups that are ‘bussed in’ to attend weekday matinees throughout the year. The audiences have been a major asset to the local economy.

The Media Theatre's Artistic Director Jesse Cline
All of the previously mentioned components of The Media Theatre have been happening now for 26 years! At the annual Gala benefit on March 28, 2020, which includes a reception prior to the evening’s entertainment, these programs will be highlighted and celebrated. Special guests will speak, and honorees will assist The Media Theatre in looking forward to the future. The night's honorees are NBC 10 (Arts Advocate Award) and The Boys and Girls Club of Chester (Community Partnership Award).

So, when you purchase your ticket to the March 28th benefit or sponsor the event, you are a large part of The Media Theatre’s integral and appreciated family. For, without your support, local youth with a passion for music theatre would not have their ‘beacon of light’ on State Street, and professional actors, designers, directors, and musicians would have one less marquee inviting them ‘home’.

Most importantly, with your support, you are assisting to provide much needed updated microphones for the professional actors in the Broadway Series. For what is "Theatre That Sings" unless you are able to hear the song in all of its clarity and beauty? This means you will have many more days and evenings of entertainment coming up for audiences of all ages. 

To join The Media Theatre at its 26th Anniversary Benefit Gala Event on March 28, call 610-891-0100 or visit mediatheatre.org. Tickets are $150 per person, which includes the reception, an entertaining and moving one-night-only concert event, and much more. 

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