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Moonlight Stage Productions: Looking Back on 32 Years in Vista

July 18, 2012 1:16 p.m.


Kathy Brombacher, founder and artistic director at Moonlight Stage Productions.

Ralph Johnson, San Diego-based actor.

Related Story: Moonlight Stage Productions: Building A Lasting Theater Community In Vista


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. The woman who made singing and dancing a summertime fixture for audiences in Vista is about to take her final bow as artistic director. Kathy Brombacher founded moonlight in Vista in 1981. And many credit the musicals put on each summer as putting North County on the map as a community that values theatre. I'd like to welcome my guests, Kathy Brombacher of moonlight stage productions. Hi.

BROMBACHER: Hi, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: And actor Ralph Johnson is here, performed for 16 summers in moonlight's stage productions.

JOHNSON: Good afternoon.

CAVANAUGH: This must be a bittersweet time for you as you prepare to step down. Why did you decide to retire?

BROMBACHER: I decided that 32 years of having a chance to lead this organization has been just the center of my life and a great joy. And seeing dreams accomplished. But I have some other goals that have to do with family and friend, traveling, writing, and other projects. So I felt they would make that decision and help nurture the next years of moonlight.

CAVANAUGH: For those who aren't familiar with the stage productions and how it came about, what types of productions is moonlight famous for?

BROMBACHER: Our outdoor performances, I believe a huge Broadway musicals, things like les miserables, fid ral on the roof, legally blonde. We do them with great lightning designers and scenery, and that's been our main stay in the summer. We also produce a winter season.

CAVANAUGH: You wouldn't think this rather large stage and these big productions could have come from that little patch. Ground you found in 1981.

BROMBACHER: It's a great memory. It was a windswept flag pavilion that I saw in 1981 with a beautiful amphitheater, great views, beautiful sunsets, but a very primitive setting. No running water, electricity, fences, anything like that. All all the access was dirt road access. So we gone in that rather primitive way, with friends and associates who knew theatre, and a great deem to produce, and trying to have the finest production elements that we could, and we began. And from that grew an audience, and patrons and all that we see now. And the finest moment of moonlight has been that in 2009, we opened our new stagehouse. State of the art stagehouse.

CAVANAUGH: It really is impressive. Ralph, you have a long history acting in San Diego. You performed in so many productions at moonlight. What impact has the moonlight stage productions had on you as an actor?

JOHNSON: Moonlight is my theatre family in the summertime, and basically year-round. It's given me the opportunity to meet hundreds and hundreds of fine actors working with some of the finest directors in Southern California. It's helped me hone my acting skills. It's given me a community in which to work. It's given me a community to be very proud of as I do all the musicals that I do up there.

CAVANAUGH: What are the audiences at moonlight stage like? What are they like?

JOHNSON: They're enthusiastic, they're devout, they're varied in age and dynamic. A lot of families come to moonlight. I sense that a lot of families have come to moonlight since it was first founded 32 years ago, and they're just very, very loyal to the theatre there. And they're so supportive of us.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That seems to be the foundation that really built moonlight. The people who will come again and again to see these shows. And it really is -- gives people an opportunity to see a kind of production they perhaps wouldn't normally go to.

BROMBACHER: Yes, indeed. There's a great ownership among the patrons of our theatre, and it's so accessible to families and all ages, all generations. Of the venue itself is open air, and you come in an hour and a half before the show to picnic or buy concessions, and there's a great time for community. People who share seatses next to each other for years or who are introducing themselves to new family members and new neighbors. So there's that great spirit. And it's just of a beautiful venue.

CAVANAUGH: About how many people come to the shows?

BROMBACHER: Between 40,000 and 45,000 depending on the sales that summer. And we also use the amphitheater as a rental venue. So during the year, we have concerts, special events, 4th of July, all that kind of thing as well as the musicals we produce.

CAVANAUGH: And how much does it cost?

BROMBACHER: We have a family rate. And it depends on the night and your seats. There are orchestra seat, reserve seats, and lawn seats. For the lawn ticket, you're given a lawn chair. Prices range between $18 and $50 a seat. The weekend, Saturdays, are more extensive. But we have special rates for military, am student rush, a family night, and lots of opportunities. And it's very important to the city of Vista that we have I good pricing structure. And they oversee all of that.

CAVANAUGH: Ralph, I wanted to ask you, do you have a favorite role at moonlight stage productions under Kathy's helm?

JOHNSON: One of them would be Henry Ford in Ragtime. Another one would be Doc in West Side Story.

CAVANAUGH: What stands out about that?

JOHNSON: Well, Doc just gave me a great dramatic arc with which to work. Another favorite role would be Wiley Post in Will Rogers' follies. Of it's probably one of the smallest roles I've ever done there. My line was let's go flyin, will. Because he was the gentleman who flew the plane that --

CAVANAUGH: One line.

JOHNSON: Let's go flyin, will! And 15 years after that performance, people still come up to me and say let's go flyin, will!

CAVANAUGH: That's what happens when people go summer after summer after summer. I want to ask you a question about starlight. We all know that the famous starlight musical theatre in Balboa Park has been silent for the past couple of years due to money problems and other problems. How have you managed not to get into that same problem?

BROMBACHER: I give full credit to the city of Vista and their plan for the cultural arts program, and their support for the moonlight cultural foundation, financially. It's a nonprofit that works hand in hand with the city to support the program. Corporate sponsorships, donors, an active, involved group of volunteers who serve on boards. We've have an extensive group of people who believe in the theatre and who do their utmost to help us raise the funds we need. In these days, it's very difficult to raise what you need for your budget, particularly on ticket prices. So you have to rely on donors, and those who will help you raise the money to run the program. And I have great respect for starlight. Don and Bonnie Ward who ran it for so many years were my mentors and still are. And I hope there will be a new efluge of that theatre.

CAVANAUGH: Have you seen any boost in audience since starlight is not producing plays in Balboa Park?

BROMBACHER: We're having a good season. Our ticket sales are up this season, which may reflect that in some way. But for all of our dear friends at that organization, I truly hope they'll have a revival.

CAVANAUGH: When I was preparing to do this interview, there are so many ways people can entertain themselves now. You can rent DVD, go to NetFlix, you have hundreds and hundreds of TV channels, you can go to the movies any time you want to. So why is it, do you think, important to give people access to live theatre, live productions?

BROMBACHER: There's no other experience like live theatre. It demands of an audience that they're engaged. The theatre experience is only complete when an audience is in the seats, applauding, laughing, engaging their emotions. It can be breath taking of the it's original every night. It is live, so something special will evolve each night from the actors.

CAVANAUGH: You had quite a production in 2002 in Ragtime, right? You had everything go wrong! What happened?

JOHNSON: La couple things happened. We had rain which delayed and canceled the end of one of our performances, and then some rats had gotten into one of the electrical rooms and chewed through the wiring. And that caused a fire at intermission. And one of our sound technicians went in and fought the fire on his own, put it out before the fire department came. We had to hold the show for about 45 minutes so that we could restart.

CAVANAUGH: Are these the types of things you're going to miss or not going to miss?


BROMBACHER: I'm not going to miss the stress of that particular set of performances! It was three nights in a row, then we had to cancel for rain the third night. Something to remember, the perfect reason we needed our new stage house. You could expect about anything to happen in that way.

CAVANAUGH: How do you answer when people say you are a big reason why -- you have made theatre accessible to audiences in the North County that wouldn't normally go to theatre?

BROMBACHER: It's great. It's one of the finest things that you can say. When we began the theatre, there was very little in North County that you could attend in terms of theatre. I was constantly going to the Globe, the playhouse, the San Diego rep. And I am so deeply proud, fiercely so, that we now have an constitution in North County that produces musical theatre.

CAVANAUGH: Has someone been named to take over your position?

BROMBACHER: We'll be announcing that in early October, end of September, something like that. So everything is in the works.

CAVANAUGH: And you're still keeping your hand in?

BROMBACHER: Yes, I don't actually leave until December. So I'll be assisting with the training of the new purpose.

CAVANAUGH: Occasionally directing?

BROMBACHER: Hopefully so. Maybe even acting.


CAVANAUGH: The next production is fiddler on the roof, it starts July 25th. More information at Thank you both very much.

JOHNSON: Thanks for having us.

BROMBACHER: Thank you, Maureen. It was a delight.