DATE OF EVENT: Monday, June 25, 1951
DATE PUBLISHED: Tuesday, June 26, 1951, in The Kansas City Times
Editor’s note: Starlight Theatre opened its first season with a performance of “Desert Song” on June 25, 1951. The opening night was the culmination of planning that had begun in 1926, when the Kansas City Federation of Music donated $7,000 to construct an outdoor stage. After decades of false starts, construction began in 1949, and the unfinished theater was the site of a centennial pageant for Kansas City in 1950 before the official opening a year later.
The Starlight theater opened last night under auspicious circumstances, if that can be taken to mean that it offered a vista of dramatic color and beauty, the sky was cloudless, a fine breeze blew out of the south, and the proceedings on and off the stage moved with precision and flourish.
Under this magnificent canopy of heaven, as Mayor William E. Kemp commented with fine phrasing in his dedicatory speech, the 1½-million-dollar bowl was set as a jewel in a spot of outdoor loveliness. Swope park was at its lush and verdant best, a touch of daylight touching the area as the crowd assembled, and finally the night coming on with a brilliance overhead.
It was not quite a full house after all — a block of 100 or so seats high up near the rim on the east side remained empty. But it was a responsive audience, the estimated 7,500, quiet and intent until the appropriate times for applause.
This was Sigmund Romberg’s show, “The Desert Song,” which initiated the Starlight theater season, and Mr. Romberg was the star performer of the preliminary proceedings. He appeared in front of the orchestra, blinded by the spotlight, and told his audience that he had been given a speech to read, that he had lost it, and that, moreover, he didn’t need it.
“I’ve seen theaters all over the country,” Mr. Romberg said, “and I’ve never seen one more beautiful than this. As for the show, I want you to remember that I only wrote the music; I’m not responsible for the rest of it. I’m asked to conduct an overture, but I didn’t write one for this show. For an overture, we’ll play a military song.”
Then he lifted his baton and the orchestra swung into the “French Military Marching Song.”
The interest in the opening was demonstrated by the fact that several hundred persons gathered before the gates opened. They waited with admirable patience, peeking through the fence at the scurrying officials and ushers who were making last-minute preparations. …
The gates opened at 7:15 o’clock. The crowd began to pour through. It was an easy, informal sort of crowd, with none of the pomp which often attends a theatrical first night. Many of the men carried their coats. It was predominantly a Greater Kansas City crowd, of course, but there were some from outlying towns in Kansas and Missouri.
Concession men hawked popcorn, confections, programs, seat cushions and opera glasses in subdued voices, carrying out to the letter the orders to keep it dignified.
The first music was in the form of soft chimes from an electric carillon. Then, as the darkness settled down, the white shaft of a spotlight was turned on the tower at the west side of the stage, and R. Carter Tucker, president of the park board, appeared, Juliet-like, on the balcony. …
The production itself was a fine one, in the opinion of Paul Beisman, general manager of the St. Louis Municipal Opera, who was a guest.
“I don’t know what could have been done to make it better,” he said.
There were 3,036 programs sold, fifty pairs of binoculars sold, another fifty rented, and about 300 seat cushions distributed at the performance.