Frank M. Young, founder of Houston’s Theatre Under the Stars, has died at age 77, Playbill has learned.
As founder of Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre Association, he was also instrumental in the development of the Broadway hit Jekyll & Hyde.
The Houston native loved musicals since childhood. After graduating with a B.A. in psychology from the University of California at Los Angeles, he returned to Houston and organized Trio Productions, which produced shows that toured the southwestern U.S. and Mexico, including a production of West Side Story that starred original cast member Chita Rivera.
Young’s life was changed in 1968 when he was offered the opportunity to produce a musical for the new Miller Outdoor Theatre in Houston’s Hermann Park. He established a nonprofit company to produce the show, a revival of the 1956 musical Bells Are Ringing. He christened the new producing entity Theatre Under The Stars (TUTS). The show was a hit, and Young’s TUTS was invited back to mount shows at the Miller every summer.
Dan Knechtges, Young’s successor as TUTS artistic director, said, “He was a visionary leader who created musical theatre for and by the Houston community that influenced the national musical theatre landscape. Frank’s love of his family, his love of artists and most of all his love of Houston, inspired him to create our first show 49 years ago at Miller Outdoor Theatre as a gift for all Houstonians.”
Over the years, the series presented classic Broadway musicals led by stars including Tommy Tune, Debbie Reynolds, Patrick Swayze, Debbie Allen, Tony Randall, Cathy Rigby, and others. A high point for the theatre came in 1993 when TUTS collaborated with Walt Disney Theatrical Productions on the world premiere of the Broadway-bound live adaptation of its animated film musical Beauty and the Beast. The show wound up running 5,461 performances on Broadway. Today it stands as the tenth-longest-running show in Broadway history.
In 1989, Young founded not-for-profit The 5th Avenue Theatre Association in Seattle, a company to create new musicals as well as revive older ones, which he ran until 2000. Among its creations was the Frank Wildhorn musical Jekyll & Hyde, co-production with Houston’s Alley Theatre. The show toured extensively and wound up on Broadway, where it ran 1,543 performances. The production gave Young his first and only Broadway credit.
David Armstrong, Young’s successor as executive producer and artistic director of the 5th Avenue Theatre, said, “My life was changed immeasurably when Frank hired me to direct The Secret Garden at The 5th Avenue Theatre in 1999. One year later I was back in Seattle as The 5th's first full-time artistic director. Today I am honored to be re-staging a new 5th Avenue/STC production of The Secret Garden at Houston's Theatre Under The Stars.”
Young was also instrumental in founding the National Alliance for Musical Theatre (NAMT) in 1985 when the directors of 43 theatres and operas came together at TUTS to discuss the state of musical theatre in America. Later the same year the group met again in New York, where the organization was incorporated as a nonprofit trade association. Today, the organization has 160 member organizations.