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Limelights and footlights on a summer night

By Dennis Minich

Saturday night I caught just a few minutes of the Limelight Theater Group’s
production of “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).” Friday night’s performance was moved indoors because of rain, but the local theater group was able to successfully stage Saturday night’s show in the park.

When I saw there were auditions being held in the summer, I was happy to see a plan in place for a show in the park. I was a reporter covering the Harrisonville Park Board in the mid-90s when the plan came about to build the amphitheater. It was hoped it would be a home for a variety of events, including plays and musical presentations.
Although the outdoor theater is almost 25 years old, I can only recall a handful of times it has actually been used for performing arts.

It has been a useful staging area for events, like the Elks Lodge Fishing Der-
by, but from an art standpoint it has been underutilized. Seeing a local theater group make use of the facility was a nice touch. I also remember the late Norm Geyer, who served on the park board for years as well as volunteering with virtually every group he could, often dreamed of a local theater company. I remember on at least two occasions he talked about
holding auditions for a show, but to the best of my knowledge, nothing ever materialized. If something did and I missed it, I apologize.
My thoughts are not on what wasn’t, but instead on what is. Kudos to HHS theater teacher Beth Keith for seeing an opportunity and taking advantage of it. It is my hope that a seed has been planted which will grow and future summers will feature a variety of events for good local entertainment.

A long, long time ago, in a place, far, far away (Johnson County, Kansas) I
actually had a brief bite from the thespian bug. These days, one of the main attractions in the Kansas City area during the summer months is Theater in the Park at Shawnee Mission Park. After Saturday night, I looked up the
website and was quite surprised to learn this year was the theater’s 50th year. It has been held in at least three locations in the park that I know of, each bigger and brighter.
The anniversary was another one of those, “boy I feel old” moments, because I appeared in “Hello Dolly” in season three (for those of you not
interested in math, that was 47 years ago. Now, you have to audition
and have actual talent to even get a whiff of performing at Theater in the Park. For that show 47 years ago, I had to show up. My high school music teacher was the director and he took any and all volunteers to perform.
For anyone who has heard me sing, they will appreciate just how desperate he was for bodies.
It was a fun couple of months because this wasn’t just high school students. In fact, the actress who played Dolly was a performer of some local renown.
There was a blend of adults and students and the weekly cast parties and the final wrap party are still etched in my mind. One of the leading male actors was Hank Stram, Jr. I remember the night his father
came to watch the show. It gained a lot of
attention from the crowd.

While on the theater’s website the other night, I actually saw a copy of the program from 1972. Reading it brought that summer back to
life in my mind. The names, the people, the events, it could have been yesterday. I still remember the songs. I also still remember my lines: it is easy because I didn’t have any. But, hey, I was on stage. My theatric career was short lived. My sophomore year in high school I was in the chorus of “Fiddler on the Roof” and if you think hearing me sing is scary, imagine this: my junior year I was in “The Sound of Music” as a dancer. Having successfully humiliated myself in virtually every way possible, I hung up my acting gear after that.
I haven’t been to Theater in the Park in more than 30 years, even though I have a very talented great-niece who was a headliner the past several years. But it now draws huge crowds for nearly every showing of every show. But somewhere along the way it started as a dream in somebody’s mind and a seed was planted and the product grew.

Who knows what the limits are for productions in City Park? But the hardest step has been taken, the first one.

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