Our Story

A Brief History of San Diego Civic Light Opera Association
(Starlight Musical Theatre)

San Diego Civic Light Opera Association is one of the oldest continuously producing musical theatre companies in the United States. Starlight was founded in 1945 by Charles Cannon, William Dean, Julius Leib and Robert J. Sullivan. Starlight Musical Theatre, presented its first season in 1946 with Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado, presented in the San Diego Zoo’s Wegeforth Bowl. It was followed by productions of the Chocolate Soldier, H.M.S. Pinafore, Naughty Marietta, The Barber of Seville and Hansel and Gretel.

Since its inception, Starlight has presented 64 seasons of musical theatre productions for the entertainment of more than four million San Diegans and visitors. These seasons have encompassed nearly 1200 productions of 136 different musicals, ranging from the operettas, of Gilbert & Sullivan and Jacques Offenback, the Rodgers & Hammerstein classics Carousel and South Pacific, favorites of the 50’s and 60’s such as West Side Story, Guys & Dolls and Peter Pan and the contemporary Broadway blockbusters as A Chorus Line, Dreamgirls, Follies and Phantom of the Opera.

One of the most artistic innovations of productions at the Starlight Bowl is the “freeze frame action” to airplane traffic. The 3,500 seat outdoor amphitheater is in the final approach to Lindbergh Field. When the plane is nearing the theatre, a spotter alerts the conductor by pressing a yellow button corresponding to a yellow light in the pit warning the actors of a potential freeze. When the plane is overhead a red button corresponding to a red light indicates that a plane is over the stage house and if necessary the conductor alerts the actors to freeze. A green button corresponds to a green light, when the plane has passed. Then the actors resume action in unison without skipping a beat. Sometimes the action freezes during an exciting moment such as a fight scene or even a kiss and the audience will applaud. It is an amazing thing to see. It is one aspect that truly sets Starlight apart from other theatrical productions and has made Starlight Musical Theatre an international tourist attraction.

Starlight consistently receives critical acclaim for its productions of musical classics as well as little seen productions that are presented as full scale Broadway quality versions using the finest in costuming, innovative set design and choreography. Coupled with a state of the art stage house and quality sound, Starlight continues to present quality family experiences under the stars at affordable prices in one of the world’s most beautiful parks.

Throughout its illustrious history, Starlight has been motivated by three goals:

  1. To produce musical theatre works of the highest artistic quality
  2. To provide professional opportunities for talented individuals in the field of musical theatre
  3. To create new audiences for musical theatre

Starlight is proud of its 65 year evolution and continues to ignite the creative spark that touches the spirit of children and adults enabling them to experience the excitement of live musical theatre. Starlight Musical Theatre believes that with quality entertainment at affordable prices and a commitment to developing new audiences, musical theatre will enhance the lives of young and old throughout the country as well as bring many tourists to American’s finest City.