Kary M. Walker, the longtime executive producer at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, IL, is retiring from the top job of the popular arena theatre after a 21-year stint that saw the staging of world premieres and a boom in subscribership there.
Under Walker's watch, subscribership at the suburban Chicago venue jumped to 35,000, making Marriott Theatre the second largest musical theatre subscription house in the nation (second only to Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey).
Succeeding Walker is Marriott Theatre's associate producer, Terry James, a onetime Marriott actor who was also a musical director there before working as an administrator, notably, beginning in 1991, as the troupe's director of advertising and public relations.
The change in leadership was announced Feb. 24. Walker, 55, will leave in March to travel and pursue other projects, James said. Walker was not immediately available for comment.
It was Walker who instituted the Marriott Theatre subscription drive in 1981 and changed the venue from a showcase for TV stars in non-musical plays to a stage for ensemble-oriented commercial musicals designed to draw a big audience. The theatre was built in 1975 as part of the larger Marriott resort. Originally the theatre was known as Drury Lane Theatre North. More the 400,000 people attend Marriott shows annually. "He's been hinting at retiring for quite a while," James told Playbill On Line. "He was such an institution that I think a lot of people are going to be surprised that he's retired. Once you pass the 20-year mark, you start looking into other things you want to accomplish."
Walker's reign included the staging of the first major regional production of Baby, staged by Richard Maltby Jr., the world premiere of the Our Town musical known as Grover's Corners, and premieres of Startime, Give My Regards to Broadway, Ms. Cinderella, Maury Yeston's History Loves Company, Annie Warbucks, Phantom of the Country Palace, Matador and Peggy Sue Got Married.
Reworked versions of Houdini, The Goodbye Girl, The New Yorkers and Queen of the Stardust Ballroom also found voice under Walker. Windy City had its American premiere there.
Walker productions have earned 238 Joseph Jefferson Award nominations. The Jeffs are Chicago's top theatre honors.
Walker is generally viewed in the Chicago theatre community as a hero who reinvented a producing house that provided employment for hundreds of actors and gave voice to new writers.
"Kary really does have a passion for theatre," said librettist Sean Grennan, whose Phantom of the Country Palace and Ms. Cinderella, written with co librettist Kathy Santen, got their premieres at Marriott.
"I think it would be very easy for someone to do Oklahoma! every year, but he wanted to do new works," said Grennan, a onetime Marriott actor. "We had a 20-page proposal, and he put us in the season based on a proposal. He really thinks the writers in the business have a hard path. He could make as much or more doing Brigadoon, but he wanted to be part of a creation. He gave me my start and maybe created me as a writer; I had no [dramatic writing] opportunities until he got me started."
Others, particularly actors in the Chicago theatre community, told Playbill On-Line Walker is known for his abrasive, uncompromising personal style.
Walker, in tandem with 20-year artistic director Dyanne Earley, chose the year-round season which begins every January. Now Terry James and Earley will pick and choose material and announce the 2001 season in September.
The current 2000 season includes Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Pirates of Penzance, Pump Boys and Dinettes, Evita and The King and I.
-- By Kenneth Jones