By Syndi Zook
Special to the Observer
September 5th, 2013
Lyric Theatre Company is proudly celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. In December of 1973, the late W. Howard Delano invited a few friends to his home on a snowy winter’s night and together they conceived a plan to bring large scale, quality musical theater to Northern Vermont, utilizing local talent and supported by local donors and completely run by volunteers. Howard had served as an usher at the Flynn Theatre when he was a boy and realized that live productions at the Flynn were possible as it had been constructed for Vaudeville shows in the 1920s and all of the rigging and stage equipment was still in place, though unused for decades.
Howard, his wife, Ellie, and charter members Polly and Red Nulty, Chet Cook, Bill and Terri Kneen, Jeffrey Aronson, Bruce Hewitt, Steve Plumb, Donna Riera and Gib Smith, among others, mounted Lyric’s first show in May 1974—“How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.” It was a creative success, but a financial failure. Costing $15,000 to produce, it lost half that amount. The members of the group personally chipped in and raised enough money to mount one more show. “Gypsy” went up in November of that same year and was a critical and financial success. Lyric never looked back.
Lyric followed “Gypsy” with “Pajama Game,” and then in November 1975, Lyric hit its stride with a production of “My Fair Lady,” which sold 7,000 tickets and set the high standard for costumes and sets that Lyric adheres to to this day. Followed by lauded performances of “Guys and Dolls” and “Oklahoma” in 1976, Lyric cemented its reputation as an amateur, all volunteer theater company that could produce shows of professional quality.
Those were the days when the Flynn was still a movie house, but all of that changed in 1980 when Lyric led the drive to purchase the Flynn, putting in all the money it had from its own bank account and creating the non-profit corporation known as The Flynn Center for the Performing Arts. Lyric then gave ownership of the Flynn to the community through that new entity, which has had very important ramifications for our region.
From 1974 to 1980, the only live use of the Flynn stage was by Lyric Theatre Company. This season, the Flynn Center will present over 215 live performances.
Lyric and The Flynn remain two separate entities, but Lyric enjoys the privilege of putting on its shows at the beautiful Flynn Theatre. This has of course brought more competition to Lyric Theatre, but through it all, Lyric has been faithful to its mission of providing quality musical theater at affordable prices.
Thirty years later, Lyric has embarked on another capital mission. Though we perform at the Flynn, we do not have a place of our own to rehearse our shows. We have a very small and inadequate warehouse to build and store costumes and sets. We are hoping to raise $1.44 million to purchase a facility that will put all the aspects of building and rehearsing a show under one roof. Just like in 1980, we desperately need to improve conditions for our more than 400 volunteers, so we can continue to meet our mission for another 40 years.
So, 83 productions later, Lyric has certainly emerged as a jewel in the Vermont arts crown, providing creative opportunities for local singers, dancers, theater technicians and musicians, as well as bringing millions of dollars into the regional economy over these many years. The budget for this season’s shows will top $300,000—a far cry from the $15,000 inaugural season in 1974. But with continued support from the community, Lyric will still make these beautiful productions available to the public at affordable prices.
Our spectacular 40th anniversary productions will be “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” Nov. 14–17 and nine performances of “Les Miserables” April 4–13, 2014.
Do you have a favorite Lyric show, or memory of a Lyric production from 30 or 40 years ago? Lyric wants to hear from you. Send your memory to [email protected]
I hope that you will join us for what is sure to be a fabulous season. Tickets are on sale at www.Flynntix.org.
Syndi Zook is the executive director of Lyric Theatre Co.