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Kansas City Community And Musical Theater 'Renaissance' Bolstered Career Of Theater League President

Two people standing in front of Broadway theater posters.
Theater League
Mark Edelman is retiring from the Theater League after forty years as it's leader. Amy Hamm, left, will take over his duties

Nearly 40 years ago, he abandoned a career in law for one in show business. And it worked out.

Mark Edelman is the long-time force behind the Theater League, an organization that brings in national tours of Broadway productions. Now, he's retiring.

He said the low cost of living and the local community helped him take the leap into the world of musical theater and, ultimately, have a successful life while working in a field that offers no guarantees.

"You can get it done in Kansas City," he told Steve Kraske during a conversation on KCUR's Up To Date.

It was here, too, that the Prairie Village native got turned on to the possibilities of theater. It was a performance of "Marat/Sade," a "very weird play" at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre, then the Missouri Repertory Theatre, that made him captivated, specifically, with stage productions.

"There are very few places you can go and share that experience" with other people, he said. "You really don't have the same kind of commitment to the experience with a movie."

He found his way to radio productions, too. In addition to bringing big budget Broadway productions to Kansas City, Edelman is also responsible for the one-hour jazz comedy radio program 12th Street Jump. It has aired on 50 stations, including KCUR 89.3. While he initially thought "everyone is going to want this," he found out that radio is "not that easy."

He has perspective on it, though, and said he keeps in mind that if it's 200 people or 10,000 people tuning in, they're listening to something live from Kansas City.

Still, the star of his decades-long career is the stage. It led him to a dinner at the Hereford House where he heard Desi Arnaz burst into the song "Babalu." He had a dressing room painted brown at the behest of Yul Brynner. Time-and-time again he picked up actors' dinner bills at some of the most upscale restaurants around town. 

The list of musicals with runs in Kansas City thanks to the Theater League is long and recognizable: "A Chorus Line," "Cats the Musical," "Annie," "Les Miserables," and "Phantom of the Opera."

Edelman went out on a performance of "The Wizard of Oz." It concluded its run at the Providence Medical Center Amphitheater in Bonner Springs on Aug. 4. While he said he was a little disappointed with the turnout, it was a "great production" that he hopes will spur more interest in doing plays and productions in Wyandotte County.

"I was lucky to have a career that followed not only the renaissance, but the explosion of interest in musical theater," he said.

One of his very first shows was "Grease." While looking at paperwork from the production, Edelman was struck by how much things really have changed. The entire grossing amount came in at less than a present-day stagehand bill at Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.

One thing hasn't changed, though, and that's Edelman's desire for a place adjacent to the spotlight.

"I can't act or sing," he said. "I thought I'd spare our audiences."

These interviews were conducted as part of a Up To Date conversation hosted by Steve Kraske. Listen to the entire conversation here

Kathleen Pointer is a digital and associate producer for KCUR's talk shows, Up To Date and Central Standard. Reach out to her at kathleenp@kcur.org or find her on Twitter @kathleenpointer