It was 25 years ago that the marquee was illuminated with the first ever professional musical production in Media, “My Fair Lady”. A sold out crowd of Delaware County and Philadelphia’s most prominent personalities, politicians, and influential names attended the opening night. Before the majestic red curtain opened for the legendary musical’s first scene, Tony nominated Broadway actress Ann Crumb introduced “Philadelphia’s newest professional musical stage” to roaring applause.
Rockwell Productions, with Artistic Director Jesse Cline, was a for-profit entity at the time. Walter Strine, Sr. of Media Real Estate, had the vision to renovate the old movie house as a live performing arts center, and chose “My Fair Lady” as the first production in honor of his loving wife, Elizabeth.
As time passed, more legendary musicals were brought to the stage by Cline: “Carousel”, “Jesus Christ Superstar”, “Annie”, “South Pacific”, and famed operettas “The New Moon”, “Rose Marie”, and “The Student Prince” to name a few. Each season, within a 12 month period, six professional musicals were staged. Two of the most popular during the for-profit’s 7 years of productions were “Meet Me In St. Louis” and “42nd Street”, which brought in huge audiences of over 12,000 each. The musicals, prior to appearing at The Media Theatre, had shorter runs in Milton, PA, where the productions began.
During this time period, from 1994 forward, there was also a not-for-profit entity – The Society For the Performing Arts of The Media Theatre. The Society, through fundraising, produced The Media Theatre’s Children’s Series, Concerts, and Special Events.
In December of 2000, Rockwell Productions produced its final musical. Artistic Director Jesse Cline remained as the head of the non-profit entity (The Society for The Performing Arts). He and his life partner, Executive Director Patrick Ward, began producing professional musicals with the assistance of Walter Strine, Sr., so that The Media Theatre would continue to operate as a full-fledged Broadway style house for classic and new musicals.
As a non-profit professional music theatre company and with Jesse Cline as its visionary, The Media Theatre has become nationally recognized. Performers in its musicals have included Emmy Winner Wanda Sykes, who appeared as Miss Hannigan in 2010’s “Annie” (which is, to date, the theatre company’s most successful production ever). Other marquee names have included Tony nominee Ann Crumb (“Master Class”, “Wings”, “Souvenir”, “Sunset Boulevard”), American Idol’s Justin Guarini (“Chicago”), and the legendary Andrea McArdle (“Mame”, “Hello Dolly”).
There have also been Tony winners of note who have performed at the theatre’s annual Gala and benefit concerts: Betty Buckley, Judy Kaye, Il Divo’s David Miller, and Alice Ripley. Even Tony nominee Josh Young, a Delaware County native, entertained audiences on State Street.
Cline has led The Media Theatre to award-winning status with “Best Of” honors from The Philadelphia Inquirer, Delaware County Daily Times, Main Line Times, and Broadway World. On a national level, The New York Daily News referred to The Media Theatre as an ‘iconic cornerstone of Delaware County’.
With all these ingredients of a professional music theatre, The Media Theatre certainly adds more than a bright marquee to the borough of Media and Delaware County.