Rich Baker hopes to establish a new cold-weather tradition at Starlight Theatre.
Last year the president and CEO of Kansas City’s summer outdoor showplace decided to try something new: Book a show during the winter. The show was “50 Shades! The Musical Parody,” presented on the enclosed main stage, which is equipped with a pull-down shield to protect it from the elements. Starlight crews installed seating for about 500.
The one-week run of the touring production happened to coincide with the nationwide opening of the movie version of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” and Baker was delighted to see that he could fill up the makeshift theater. So this year he decided to quadruple-down and book four shows in January.
He didn’t really want to cram them all into a single month, but the decision to do so was dictated in part by the availability of the main stage. The stage is often used for corporate and private events arranged by Epic Innovative Events, a for-profit Starlight subsidiary.
The goal, he said, was to find entertainment that fit a certain formula: “Just dumb fun shows geared toward a ladies night out.”
“50 Shades” certainly met the “dumb” standard. And it made a little history by being the first R-rated show ever presented at the traditionally family-oriented theater.
“Last year was very risque, and we were very careful to let people know that it was R-rated,” Baker said. “What we need to do is just let people know what’s in the show.”
Of this year’s lineup, Baker said only the first, “Dixie’s Tupperware Party,” which opens Tuesday, is as bawdy as “50 Shades.” The others — “Late Night Catechism,” “Potted Potter” and “One-Man Star Wars Trilogy” — are suitable for general audiences.
“My hope is that we can kind of build an audience that gets used to this kind of theater,” Baker said. “The only one that really is a little more like ‘50 Shades’ is ‘Dixie’s Tupperware Party,’ because we learn some new uses for Tupperware.”
Baker assigned company manager Caroline Gibel to identify the shows that might fit the new winter schedule.
“We were all very encouraged and excited by the response we got from ‘50 Shades,’ so he asked if I would do a lot of the legwork and travel and research to see what kind of shows we could get in here,” Gibel said. “I looked at other theaters that have similar house sizes compared to our indoor venues. I would bring it back, and Rich would sit and decide: Would this be something Kansas City would like and Starlight audiences would like?”
These are the shows Gibel found:
▪ “Dixie’s Tupperware Party,” performed by Kris Andersson. He originated the show at the New York Fringe Festival and has been touring with it for several years.
“It’s a real-life Tupperware party,” Gibel said. “You go into the theater, and there’s a Tupperware catalog actually in your seat. … When I saw it in Fort Worth, the ladies came with their Tupperware sipping cups and were drinking wine out of their cups. It’s silly and a little bit naughty, which the ladies love.”
▪ “Potted Potter,” performed by the British duo of Dan Clarkson and Jeff Turner. The show is an irreverent 75-minute survey of the Harry Potter novels.
“It’s a parody of all seven Potter books,” Gibel said. “I’d never read any of the books, and I didn’t think I would get it, but you really don’t have to have read the books or seen the movies. … It’s interactive and extremely funny.”
▪ “One Man Star Wars Trilogy” performed by Canadian Charles Ross.
“As a kid he was obsessed with ‘Star Wars,’ and when he grew up he started making this show and began touring in 2002,” Gibel said. “The cool thing about this show is he has no props and no sets. It’s literally just him doing the first three ‘Star Wars’ films.”
▪ “Late Night Catechism,” an interactive comedy that began in Chicago in 1993 and has been touring ever since. The show effectively puts the audience in the role of students in a classroom run by a no-nonsense nun known only as Sister. The show will be in the Berger Studio, which is normally used for rehearsals, and will have seating for about 214. “Catechism” will run three weeks, overlapping the other shows.
Gibel said the show was “extremely interactive,” and throughout its history it has attracted church groups as well as general audiences.
Baker said that if the winter series is successful, he might expand the number of shows next year but schedule them over several months.
“If this goes as half as well as we hope it will, this will almost make Starlight a year-round destination,” Baker said. “I think this opens a whole new horizon for Starlight.”
▪ “Dixie’s Tupperware Party” runs Tuesday through Jan. 17 in the Cohen Community Stage House. The show runs 90 minutes without an intermission.
▪ “Late Night Catechism” runs Wednesday through Jan. 31 in the Berger Studio. It runs two hours with an intermission.
▪ “Potted Potter” runs Jan. 19 to 24 on the Cohen stage. The running time is 75 minutes without an intermission.
▪ “One-Man Star Wars Trilogy” runs Jan. 26 to 31 on the Cohen stage. It runs 75 minutes with no intermission.