Owosso’s Lebowsky Center returns with new productions

Theater group gets back into the swing of things

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Owosso’s Lebowsky Center for the Performing Arts’ newest show is “Icons: The Show Must Go On!” After about a year and a half of no inside stage shows, due to the COVID pandemic, the subtitle is fitting. 

“Icons” debuts today (June 16) and runs through Sunday (June 19).  The multi-generational musical revue includes nine vocalists and a 15-piece dance ensemble. Three dancers also accompany John Dillingham on piano. All-time piano greats are saluted in a musical journey in the first of three summer events that signal Lebowsky shows indeed will go on.

“Pop Up in the Park” runs July 22 through July 24.  Some favorite performers from the Lebowsky stage will perform a mix of popular songs from Broadway and beyond. “Head Over Heals,” the Broadway jukebox musical comedy that features songs by the punky new wave group The Go Go’s, runs from Aug. 11 through Aug. 15.

Because the safest way to reopen performances is outdoors, “Icons” and “Head Over Heals” will be performed under an outside dome at Fortitude Farms and Events.  The owner, Alec Faber — a Lebowsky supporter for many years — offered the space.  

The dome was built and designed by a Lebowsky set team. It has already withstood recent thunderstorms. 

“Pop Up in the Park” will be staged on a closed-off Park Street, which is adjacent to the Lebowsky Center on Main Street.

The Lebowsky Center has been following federal and state guidelines since the beginning of the COVID outbreak in Michigan. “Our number one priority was always to keep our patrons, staff, volunteers, and performers safe,” Kathy Brooks said.  

Brooks has been a part of the Lebowsky since appearing on stage in the ’80s during a production of “The Will Rogers Follies.” “My claim to fame was being a dancing cow,” she said.

Brooks has been a Lebowsky prop master, stage manager, usher, ticket-taker and house manager.  This month marks her sixth year as executive director.

“My sole purpose this past year plus was to make sure the theater would be able to open again when it was allowed,” Brooks said.  That included writing grants, managing online fundraisers and applying for loans.  

“We received both PPP loans, SBA and MEDC grants and loans, grants form the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs, grants from the Cook Family Foundation and the Shiawassee Community Foundation,” she said.  The Lebowsky was also able to keep afloat without stage shows because of a $22,000 donation from “100 + Women Who Care of Shiawassee County.”

“But what was really appreciated was the generous gifts received from so many during our fundraising campaigns,” Brooks said.

Money and an empty stage allowed an upgrading of the Lebowsky Center’s technical capabilities and renovating the box office with new computers and digital displays.  “We also used the downtime in the theater to clean and organize the prop and costume rooms and other areas of the theater we don’t usually have an opportunity to organize,” Brooks said.

She remains optimistic despite the cancellation of more than an entire season and the loss of ticket sales.  The Lebowsky Center is known for lavish productions and large casts. Before the pandemic, a season would feature four musicals and two plays.  Even its annual holiday show scheduled for last November was canceled due to rising COVID cases.

 “We don’t measure what we may have lost, we measure what we have gained,” Brooks said. “The greatest gift to us is the knowledge of the absolute support we have from the community.”

The outlook for a return to shows inside the Lebowsky Center is cause for optimism.  “Our board just approved several shows for this fall,” she said. The first is a September production of “Five Women Wearing the Same Dress,” a comedy that was canceled in 2020.  “We have plans for a musical in October and also our full “Holiday at Lebowsky” in December,” Brooks said.

Getting back to regular inside stage spectacles would mean getting back to a nearly 100-year tradition.  The grand Lebowsky building has featured shows since Joseph H. Lebowsky opened the Capitol Theater in 1926.  

The George J. Bachmann designed theater began as a vaudeville and moving picture house, becoming a movie-only theater until 1985.  Since the ’50s — after a brief occupancy by a church — the building has featured theatrical productions. 

A devastating arson fire in 2007 closed the playhouse for seven years. Since it reopened in 2014 with “Shrek, the Musical,” the Owosso Community Players — now just the Lebowsky Center For the Performing Arts — have been determined to make sure that the show goes on and on.

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