Michael Jenkins’ commanding stage presence has changed the face of Dallas Summer Musicals…
Forget globe-trotting executives, or jet-setting celebrities. The word around Dallas is that no one flies more often than Michael Jenkins, President and Director of the Dallas Summer Musicals since 1994. Catch him if you can; as a producer/investor, he’s typically en route to one of his three shows currently running in New York (The Color Purple, The Drowsy Chaperone or the musical Legally Blonde, which opens in April), viewing his touring productions including Camelot starring Michael York, bound for London to check on his plays there (Guys & Dolls, Love Song, Porgy & Bess), presiding over productions in development or sampling plays in places like Sydney, Australia for future consideration. And did we mention that Mr. Jenkins’ company, Leisure and Recreation Concepts Inc. (LARC), has helped develop more than 1,100 theme parks, museums and sports complexes including the recent acquisition of seven Six Flags parks? Now that’s some serious frequent flyer miles.
“I can’t get enough of the whole hectic thing,” says a jovial Michael Jenkins. “I’m now working on our 2009 shows. I live and die on my own sword when it comes to selection and whether Dallas/Fort Worth audiences will like them. If the story’s not terrific or isn’t wholesome family entertainment in the DSM tradition, forget it.”
During Mr. Jenkins’ tenure, season subscriptions for the Dallas Summer Musicals and the Broadway Contemporary Series have increased from 6,700 to 30,000 collectively…the largest subscriber base in DSM history. His business and marketing acumen—from a focus on producing more shows locally, to bringing cutting-edge flavor to town with the more avant-garde Broadway Contemporary Series—is evident at every curtain call. “That so many new audiences have experienced our productions is very gratifying.”
A Fair Park kind of life.
For Michael Jenkins, a native Dallasite, presiding over the DSM is practically a labor of love. He grew up immersed in Fair Park, where the arts and the Midway reign supreme. “I went to the State Fair of Texas about 14 times each year as a boy. The old roller coaster was incredible. I remember the thrill of the Ice Capades show at what is now the Livestock Pavilion. And the time my aunt won a contest for naming Elsie the Cow’s calf, Beauregard. I even helped put up Big Tex. Jack Bridges, who originated Big Tex, thought I was light enough—at 14—to be hoisted to the top of Tex’s hat brim to hook him up while he was being erected…then hoisted again to unhook him once he was standing tall.”
Another Fair Park tie launched his career. At 14, he became an usher at the Dallas Summer Musicals, along with a young man named Tom Hughes. He was supervised by Charles Meeker, Jr., the original DSM producer, who showed both boys the “ropes” of stage design.
“I was mesmerized about the stage, the productions, Fair Park Music Hall itself. I also was given responsibilities for sprucing up other Fair Park facilities. Once Charlie (Meeker) had me painting numbers on each of the Cotton Bowl’s 75,504 seats. The job was mine alone, and I worked day and night. One night, I had just finished painting and discovered I was locked in with no way to call home. I ended up climbing out of the Cotton Bowl, which was certainly not easy.”
On with the shows.
Jenkins hoped to study filmmaking at the University of Southern California. But his father had died in a plane crash and his mother wanted Michael to be closer to home. So he studied Theatre Management and Stage Design at Baylor. Soon after, at Meeker’s request, Jenkins found himself developing and planning the shows at the new Six Flags Over Texas, as Vice President of Entertainment and New Projects. “It was a terrific opportunity to team up with Charlie again, in an exciting atmosphere. However, he passed away all too soon.”
In the meantime, his ushering buddy, Tom Hughes, was at the helm of the Dallas Summer Musicals and had been producing nationally acclaimed shows such as Hello, Dolly! starring Carol Channing. After Hughes’ untimely death in 1994, Mr. Jenkins quickly put together a 1995 summer season, just to keep things running smoothly.
Michael Jenkins is still going strong as President and Managing Director of the DSM, instituting one innovative idea after another while never wavering from providing superior service to theatre patrons. “We truly believe that everyone who comes to the theatre should be treated like family. You’ll meet at least seven members of our staff every time you come to a performance, from ticket-taker to usher. And we hope they will always give impeccable service.” Even the performers themselves go a step further for guests. “Once, when Barry Williams (“The Brady Bunch”) was in town doing The Music Man, we didn’t know where he was after the show. Turned out he’d been in our parking lot, helping to fix a flat tire of one of our patrons!”
Lions and Witches and Spam---Oh, my!
Mr. Jenkins is very hands-on for every production. “I believe showbiz is about putting on the show, being creative and running it like a business. I answer every email and try to find ways to reach different audiences—like new programs for hearing impaired children and former street gang members who have successfully completed Saturday programs with the Dallas Police Department. Of course we also want to constantly please our current audiences.”
Which brings us to the 2007 Season. Michael Jenkins has pulled out all the stops to bring some of today’s most astounding shows front and center. “The sold-out encore of Wicked in April and the first-class national tour of Chicago are certain to wow ‘em. “Wonderful Town, about sisters from Ohio seeking success in the Big City, will delight all ages. Monty Python’s Spamalot is hilarious, and the more serious Camelot will be magnificent with Michael York’s performance. Finally, Sweet Charity with Molly Ringwald is going to be positively charming.”
For the State Fair Musical, nothing rivals Disney’s The Lion King, believes Mr. Jenkins. “From vivid savannahs to leaping gazelles, it’s visually stunning. The music and choreography will leave families enthralled.”
Memories, all alone in the moonlight.
In his colorful life, what performers or memories have impressed Michael Jenkins the most?
“One of the hardest working and delightful stars out there is comedienne Phyllis Diller, who performed for the Dallas Summer Musicals as the Wicked Witch in Cinderella. In addition to amusing audiences to no end, she called me at 5 a.m. on a Sunday because she wanted to help sell tickets for the DSM on a radio show.”
One memory that moved him: “During Tony Curtis’ run in Some Like it Hot, a lady in the audience asked to go backstage with a package for Mr. Curtis. We took the package back to Tony instead. After the show, he asked to have the woman come backstage. She emerged from his dressing room crying. Turns out Tony and her father served on the same ship in World War II. Her dad was killed when she was a baby, so she never knew him. The package contained photos of him with Tony; Mr. Curtis helped fill the void of memories she lacked. I was in tears too.”
Give Michael Jenkins a dinner of chicken fried steak and potatoes, and he’s one happy guy. He lives near Turtle Creek and loves the trees and walking paths. As for hobbies, “I work seven days a week, so there’s really no time.” He looks at his schedule. “I need to run,” he excuses himself. “Tonight I’ve got a flight to Tokyo to check on a project. My life is never dull.”
Indeed. It is a life that deserves a standing ovation, to be sure.
For more information on tickets, dates and descriptions of the 2007 Dallas Summer Musicals and Broadway Contemporary Series, visit the Dallas Summer Musicals web site.