By Joseph E. Smith, Public Relations
(Ivins, UT) In the spring of 1995, Tuacahn Amphitheatre opened its doors to share with its audiences Tuacahn’s first musical theatre production UTAH! It was the beginning of a dream for Tuacahn Center for the Arts- a dream to heighten the arts, education, and the community it serves.
Now, in 2020, having produced more than 60 major musical theatre productions, hosting more than 200 concerts, showcasing hundreds of professional actors and musicians, educating thousands of students, involving thousands of community volunteers, and seating hundreds of thousands of patrons, Tuacahn Center for The Arts celebrates 25 years, a quarter of a century, of theater excellence!
“It is very fulfilling to see how far Tuacahn has progressed over the last 25 years,” says Kevin Smith, CEO. Kevin continues, “I remember the first few years how difficult it was to fill seats. A 2,000 seat amphitheatre looks pretty empty with only three or four hundred people in it. Now, to see the venue at or near capacity on a nightly basis is both rewarding and exciting.”
The musical UTAH! debuted in 1995 and was originally to be Tuacahn’s staple and sole production. After four years audiences began to dwindle despite the solidity of the show. In 1999 the Tuacahn Board felt that it needed to shift its strategy and pursue a new direction. “We're proud of what we accomplished with UTAH!,” said Kevin Smith, “but after several years of one show, it was clear that people wanted to see something new.” A brilliant direction was conceived as Broadway in The Canyon was born.
Broadway In The Canyon
Broadway in the Canyon would bring to the stage three Broadway tested musicals but done in a unique way that could not be duplicated anywhere else. In 1999, to test this direction, Tuacahn performed Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Seven Brides for Seven Brother. It worked! The shows were well received and the amphitheatre found itself in the enviable position of dealing with huge crowds and sold out houses.
Since the opening of Broadway in the Canyon, Tuacahn continued to produce a variety of Broadway hit musicals from Fiddler on the Roof to Singin’ in the Rain. In 2005, to celebrate its 10th season, Tuacahn secured the license to produce Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. “We took a bit more of a risk with ‘Beauty’ to really elevate our production quality,” say Scott Anderson, Tuacahn’s Artistic Director. “We attracted seasoned Broadway professional actors. Our design team worked year round building sets, designing costumes and expanding the stage to provide a greater theatrical experience. We really put our reputation on the line and invested more than we ever had; and it paid off.”
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast opened to a packed theatre and Tuacahn enjoyed its most successful season to that point. Scott continued, “We showed that when Broadway connects with its audience and produces quality family fare like Beauty and the Beast, people will beat down the doors to see it!” As important, the success of ‘Beauty’ opened the way for a long and fruitful relationship with Disney. Since 2005, Tuacahn has produced Disney’s Tarzan, Aladdin, Mulan, Marry Poppins, When You Wish, The Hunch Back of Notre Dame, and The Little Mermaid.
Perhaps one of Tuacahn’s greatest achievements that once again both challenged and elevated its genius was the 2008 production of Les Misèrables. “It was a great honor and challenge to tackle the responsibility of directing such and iconic musical masterpiece as Les Misèrables,” noted Scott Anderson. “Tuacahn was one of the first regional theatres in America to be granted the professional rights to present Les Misèrables. With this honor came a lot of responsibility; to maintain the integrity of the original production while still utilizing Tuacahn’s unique natural surroundings.” Tuacahn’s portrayal of Les Misèrables was an instant success and helped Tuacahn’s artistic reputation with audiences and in regional theatre circles.
One of the great distinguishing aspects of the outdoor amphitheatre is the ability to use impressive water effects to enhance the onstage spectacle and to suspend the belief of an audience. Disney’s The Little Mermaid first opened at Tuacahn the summer of 2011 and was a perfect show to really test and highlight its ‘water magic’ capability by attempting to create the illusion of being under the sea.
To do this Tuacahn engineered a water curtain that spanned the 75 foot width of the stage that hung 30 feet in height. From an offstage aquifer, Tuacahn was able to pump 10,000 gallons of recyclable water per performance to give the magical sea creatures the real effect of being under water. Furthermore, and just as impressive, the water curtain could also be used as a massive screen for amazing animation projections. The special effects were ‘jaw dropping.’
The audience response was overwhelming resulting in a record attendance and capacity sellouts at every performance. In 2014 it was decided to bring back by popular demand Disney’s The Little Mermaid, and two other previously produced hits The Wizard of Oz and Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. The trio was a smashing success bringing in Tuacahn’s largest seasons show sales in its then 20-year history. Tuacahn is happy to be able to produce an encore run of Disney’s The Little Mermaid in 2019!
To highlight its 20th anniversary achievement in 2015, Tuacahn brought back Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and debuted the world premiere of Disney’s When You Wish.
“The success of Tuacahn’s record of producing outstanding Disney musicals contributed to receiving the rights to produce the premiere of Disney’s When You Wish. It is a great honor,” Scott Anderson added. “This spectacular stage production featured classic full choreographed live production numbers. This fantastic live production coupled with a stunning panoramic backdrop was absolutely unforgettable.”
This charming collaboration between Disney and Tuacahn brought Disney’s most beloved musicals to the outdoor stage. Through the imagination of a young girl, Disney’s When You Wish took the audience on an enchanted journey through popular Disney film and Broadway classics, including Mulan, Aladdin, Tarzan, Newsies, Tangled, The Little Mermaid, Hercules and many others from Walt Disney’s classic film vault. This one-of-a-kind production created lasting memories for all ages as they travel through Disney’s spectacular music library. All of your most wished for Disney characters came to life as only Tuacahn can present. Tuacahn will also be producing Disney’s When You Wish in its 2019 season with some fresh new numbers from some more recent Disney films.
Tuacahn also has a keen ability to bring in fun quality entertainers during its spring and fall concert series. Over the years star performers such as Willie Nelson, Martina McBride, Heart, Amy Grant, Vince Gill, Colby Caillat, Air Supply, Foreigner, Thriller, Peter Cetera, Sheena Easton, Kenny Loggins, The Piano Guys, Brian Regan, Jay Leno, REO Speedwagon- and many, many more- have packed the amphitheatre and echoed their talents between its great red canyon walls.
Tuacahn High school
In 1999, Tuacahn High School for the Perfoming Arts opened its doors as the first public charter school in the state of Utah. The high school has grown from just a handful of eager students to a thriving student body today of more than 380. With an emphasis in the performing arts, THS is a school where on any given day you might find dancers choreographing in the halls, musicians playing at lunch, actors practicing their lines, singers filling the school with song, or artists gazing, brush in hand, at the majesty of towering red cliffs just outside the windows.
A few more highlights and additions that have really uplifted the Tuacahn experience include Christmas in the Canyon and Live Nativity, Saturday Market, and Gift Gallery. Christmas in the Canyon is a way for Tuacahn to give back to the community. The plaza and buildings are lit up with thousands of lights and welcomes visitors to come without charge and to feel the spirit of Christmas. A Live Nativity is shown twice a night throughout the holiday season featuring a new volunteer cast every night.
Saturday Market is one more way that those who want to experience more of Tuacahn can enjoy its wonderful surroundings in an outdoor market in the canyon featuring local artwork, crafts, food and entertainment. It is a wonderful opportunity for people looking for something fun to do on any Saturday morning and for crafters to show off their wares.
A Community Asset
Perhaps the greatest thing that has transpired over Tuacahn’s story is the transformation of an obscure amphitheatre somewhat isolated from the nearby communities of Washington county, Utah into a real community asset and statewide gem.
“We had no idea in the beginning how Tuacahn would help fuel the local economy like it has over the years,” says Kevin Smith. “We truly look at ourselves as a community asset as we now draw 80% of our patrons from out of town. They are sleeping in local hotels, eating in local restaurants, and buying other goods and services. It’s estimated that Tuacahn this last year contributed more than $100 million in terms of economic impact to our local economy; second only to Zion National Park.”
The last 24 years have been a great adventure for Tuacahn Center for the Arts. Tuacahn wants to thank all patrons who come and enjoy the shows and concerts, who give of their time and money to help Tuacahn create high quality family fun entertainment. Lindsay Garfias, Development Manager exclaimed, “Tuacahn has grown over the years. We depend greatly on yearly giving to help operations, to maintain this state of the art facility and most importantly to grow our programs and to help Tuacahn continue to realize its mission of providing quality entertainment that uplifts the human spirit and matches the majesty of our canyon.”
Thanks to the past and future generosity of its patrons and supporters, Tuacahn will be here for many years to come; and who knows what magic and adventure will come along the way…