In the summer of 1959, several friends, inspired by the cultural vitality of New York and San Francisco, began to discuss the possibility of doing something in Milwaukee to combat what they deemed “a context of extreme cultural poverty.”
Two of these friends, Sprague Vonier, the program manager at WTMJ television and Clair Richardson, a wildly eccentric public relations man that had successfully alienated all his accounts, were determined to create a beatnik coffeehouse like those in San Francisco. They raised $2,000 for the initial capitalization of the space, intending a coffeehouse with beat poetry and maybe some music.
Not long after, at a fundraising event in Door County for Bel Canto Chorus, and with the help of some “chemical inducement,” two very serious church musicians, Jim Keeley and Ray Smith, sat down at the piano and performed an incredible, impromptu performance of the music of Gilbert & Sullivan. Richardson turned to Vonier and said “Do you want to have some real fun? I’ll get these guys to put on a show in the empty space upstairs.”
And with that, the Skylight Theatre was born. Fifty years later, we are proud to celebrate our deliciously quirky history and our international recognition as a renowned producer of the full spectrum of music theatre.
Since the beginnings, Skylight Music Theatre has established a reputation for broad and adventuresome repertoire, encompassing baroque opera, European operetta, Gilbert and Sullivan, Broadway musicals, contemporary chamber operas and original musical revues. This tantalizing mix of repertoire fulfills the mission of the Skylight which is to bring the full spectrum of musical theatre works to a wide and diverse audience in celebration of the musical and theatrical arts and their reflection of the human condition.
The Skylight gives over 90 performances each season, winning national praise for its artistic excellence, versatility, and virtuoso ensemble productions.
Emphasizing the development of emerging American artists, directors and designers, Skylight Music Theatre attracts important new talent from around the country. With extended rehearsal and production periods, Skylight artists are able to hone their skills, expand their repertoire and gain invaluable experience.
Read more about Skylight Music Theatre history in Colin Cabot’s “Thirty Years War” — a tale of the first thirty years of Skylight adventure.