A downtown theater and the operator of the Pasadena Playhouse have joined in a rescue attempt for the financially burdened Starlight Musical Theater.

Under a five-year contract, the Pasadena-based Theater Corp. of America, which runs the Playhouse and other facilities, will handle Starlight’s operations. The schedule will include productions at the Spreckels Theater in downtown San Diego.

Known for summer musicals

Starlight, run by the non-profit San Diego Civic Light Opera board, is noted for staging summer musicals in a 4,300-seat theater in Balboa Park. But the 48 -year-old org faced bankruptcy after a succession of financial setbacks in recent years. A depressed local economy and a lack of new musicals contributed to a major decline in Starlight subscriptions and single-ticket sales, and this fall-winter season was canceled.

Theater Corp. will not assume any Starlight debt, put at about $ 1 million.

‘Warbucks’ loss

Recent attempts by Starlight to expand with a winter season brought mixed results and one disaster — a$ 400,000 loss on “Annie Warbucks,” the sequel to “Annie” that was to be developed by and tour regional musical theaters before moving to Broadway.

Under the new arrangement:

Touring Theater Corp. musicals “Sayonara,””Mame” and “Fame: The Musical” will have 10-day runs at the Spreckels in February, May and June. These will be offered to subscribers as a replacement for canceled shows.

Don and Bonnie Ward, dropped as Starlight co-artistic directors in October, will manage San Diego operations for Theater Corp. Their first duties will be to smooth the transition and sell the new shows to subscribers. In the summer, they’ll probably act as producing directors for a three-show Starlight Bowl sked.

Six Theater Corp.-originated musicals will play at the Spreckels next fall and winter. Plans call for one of the fall musicals to debut in San Diego — likely directed by the Wards — then travel.

The musicals usually will start at the Alex Theater in Glendale, move to the Spreckels and then to Fresno’s Warnors Theater.

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