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Bringing Broadway to Oakland: Woodminster Amphitheater Summer Musicals

By Elisha Neubauer

Sweeping views of the San Francisco Bay create a stunning backdrop for the Woodminster Amphitheater and Cascades in Oakland, California. Set deep in the 500-acre Joaquin Miller Park, the Amphitheater began its story in 1940 as a memorial to California writers. In an attempt to reinvigorate the space, the Amphitheater began hosting summer musicals and operettas during the '50s and '60s. Shortly after, a company called the Producers Associates was given life and has since been conducting the Summer Musical program over the last forty-nine years.

Producers Associates was founded by former Broadway stars Jim and Harriet Schlader in 1967. Since its inception, the company has presented at least three large, Broadway-style musicals in the facility every summer. The shows- running in July, August, and September- range from children's themes to more adult-centered productions. "We produce shows from the whole canon of American musical theater, so every season includes something for just about everybody," says Kathy Kahn, publicist for Woodminster.

In order to make live theater available to all families, Woodminster offers a Kids Come Free program. Several thousand free tickets are given to the youth of the community- both young children and teens. "It's really fun to watch the children arrive, all excited, and get drawn into the magic of live performance. Sometimes they dress up like characters from the show! For example, when we did Beauty and the Beast, we had a lot of little girls in ball gowns." Half-priced tickets bring in over 100 Bay Area organizations, such as the Oakland East Bay Symphony, Coast Guard Auxiliary, United Way, EDD, Rotary, Lions, and a number of other service organizations, church groups, and neighborhood groups.

For many families in the Oakland area, Woodminster Summer Musicals offers their introduction to live theater. Since the program has been bringing the joy of American musicals to the community for forty-nine years, many patrons can recall being brought to the Amphitheater as children. "Some of these families have been sitting in the same seats for 3 generations, and evenings at Woodminster are an annual tradition," states Kahn. For those in the business, Woodminster Summer Musicals provides paying work to professional actors, musicians, designers, choreographers, and technicians, as well as paying stipends. The program also offers invaluable experience to young backstage interns and aspiring actors, singers, and dancers- giving them hands-on training that cannot be replicated in a classroom.

The Amphitheater is a beautiful, open-air venue that comfortably seats over 1,500 guests and provides the community of Oakland an opportunity to witness the charm of Broadway productions at a fraction of the cost of attending other theater houses across the Bay area. Within the facility, you can find fresh organic coffee and hot chocolate as well as soft drinks, hot dogs, candy, popcorn, and cookies at the convenient in-house snack bars. Although treats and refreshments are served on the premises, patrons are allowed to bring in their own with no restrictions.

Whether you are local or just visiting, Woodminster Summer Musicals are lovely to enjoy on a summer evening. With something for every age group, it is a surefire way to add a little magic to your summer and experience all the best that Broadway has to offer- without leaving the Bay Area.

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About The Author

Elisha Neubauer is a freelance editor, ghostwriter, book reviewer, and author. She is...

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