After 750 performances attended by more than 730,000 adults and children, city of Orange officials gathered this week for a 30th anniversary salute to the Lutcher Theater, saying it has improved the quality of life not only for the city but the region as a whole.
“It’s hard to believe that 30 years ago we opened with Liberace,” said Orange Mayor Brown Claybar. “I can remember attending it, and there’s been so many wonderful memories and its just part of the fabric of life that we enjoy here.”

Claybar told a gathering of theater staff and Orange chamber officials about the Downtown Master Plan, which will eventually connect Lamar State College-Orange and Stark and city properties with the Sabine River. Special guests included Beaumont and Lake Charles chamber officials.

“This is another great day for Orange,” Claybar said.

Shows scheduled for the 2010-11 season include the dancing extravaganza “Burn the Floor,” the Handel update “Messiah Rocks,” a musical based on the Disney film “Beauty and the Beast,” the Grammy-winning “bluegrass family” Cherryholmes, Monty Python’s Tony-winning comedy “Spamalot,” a musical version of “The Color Purple,” the Abba music of Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus in “Mamma Mia” and a musical version of “Legally Blonde.”

Stark Foundation President and CEO Walter Riedel III remembered being a junior accountant for the foundation in the months before the theater opened. He and others worked to get the theater on tax-exempt status.

Theater Director Jim Clark said statistics compiled over the years indicate attendance figures (about one quarter each) from Orange, Louisiana, Beaumont and Port Arthur.

He added, “We bring the art to challenge the community, and we give people hope and we give people expression.”

Some proposed shows just never happened because of the performer’s demand in payment. An idea to bring in James Taylor was thrown out when the cost per seat was calculated at $750.

“We had to let that one go,” Clark said. “Many times people are on tour and we have to take advantage of that, such as our [2009] Christmas show with Jim Brickman and the upcoming Chris Botti performance.”

Other Lutcher memories included Secret Service searches of the building when Ronald Reagan’s son Ronald Jr. performed with the Joffrey Ballet. Later, appearances by the Black Watch (or Queen’s Guard) caused bomb searches because of political problems between England and Ireland.

Clark also acknowledged the Lutcher Theater Service Guild.

“We have an international reputation for the food we serve here,” he said. “We are famous for our home-cooked meals. On all the itineraries of the companies that come here they write, ‘Do not eat in a restaurant in Orange. Wait till you get to the theater.’”

Some performers such as Clint Black, always known to eat on their bus, have been seen in the serving area to take advantage of gumbo or other Texas-La. cuisine.

Many performers recall Box Office/House Manager Cecil Broom from previous tours, Clark said, and tell their show mates, “Ya’ll come back here, Grandma’s serving.”