Progress & Innovation - Breathing Vision, Passion into Performances from Behind the Curtain

Monday, August 6, 2012


Breathing Vision, Passion into Performances from Behind the Curtain
By Shelley Owens
For Progress & Innovation

The Treasure Coast boasts a host of options for residents and visitors seeking cultural experiences.  Among the most popular are our three performing arts theatres – The Lyric in Stuart, The Sunrise in Fort Pierce and the Riverside Theatre in Vero Beach.   While the theaters and their histories are interesting in themselves, it’s the vision and passion of the executives behind the curtain that breathe life into each season of entertainment.

Growing up, John Loesser heard his famous parents, Broadway composer and lyricist Frank Loesser and singer and Broadway producer Lynn Garland, sing “Baby It’s Cold outside” to each other. The song won an Academy Award, an “Oscar,” after Frank Loesser included it in a Hollywood film score.

Born into the business
“I guess you could say I was born into this business,” said Loesser, now executive director of the Lyric Theatre. By 13, he had started an apprenticeship with a producer in New York and, by 16, was assisting on Broadway musicals, including “Mame.”
While in his 20s, Loesser won awards as a California record producer.  Then, he discovered summer stock, small towns and historical non-for-profit theaters. “In small towns it [theater] meant something,” Loesser said. “We moved around from place to place but finally my wife said ‘I don’t care where you are going, I’m going to the beach,’” Loesser said. “We came to Stuart frequently to visit her family. The position at The Lyric came up.”  “That was 16 years ago,” he said. At the time, no one considered parking an issue in downtown Stuart. “Now we bring 50,000 people annually downtown,” he said. Some complain about parking, but from an economic viewpoint, “that’s a good problem to have,” he said. “And we do that without public funding. I’m proud of that.”not so silent now.  Originally a silent movie house built during the Pre-Depression boom of the ‘Roarin’ 20s,’ the 500-seat Lyric Theatre was purchased in 1987 for preservation by members of the community. As a community-supported charitable organization, the theater has grown into an important regional performing arts center in downtown Stuart.onal performing arts center in downtown Stuart.

As The Lyric celebrates its 20th season, area residents will have a chance to catch two Frank Loesser musicals performed with full orchestras. The song-filled and often operatic “The Most Happy Fella,” produced on Broadway by Lynn Garland Loesser in the late 1950s, and “Pleasures and Palaces,” not staged since the 1960s. 

Presenting theater or producing theater?
“Being a presenter is far easier than being a producer like Riverside in Vero Beach and Maltz in Jupiter,” said John Loesser, executive director of The Lyric Theatre in Stuart, a presenting theater. “As a presenter, you sort of buy your acts in a can and sell tickets.”Theaters that produce shows require weeks or months of preparation, set building, hiring of actors and behind-thescenes talent and rehearsal before the curtain goes up.“Riverside has a staff of 50 plus 20 to 30 part-time staff during season,” said Jon Moses, managing director at Riverside Theatre, the largest professional producing equity theater south of Atlanta.  Sunrise Theatre in Fort Pierce, a presenting theater, has about six full-time employees and volunteers as needed, said Sunrise Director John Wilkes. And The Lyric employs 14 fulltime staff and 20 to 25 part-time people, said Loesser.
— Shelley Owens