Since Star Plaza Theatre opened its doors in December 1979 as the Holiday Star with Donna Summer performing, it has brought top-notch Vegas-style entertainment to Northwest Indiana.
Liberace, Tom Jones, Perry Como, the Moody Blues, Kenny Rogers, Gallagher, David Copperfield, the Beach Boys, Jay Leno, the Temptations, REO Speedwagon, Red Skelton, Mitzi Gaynor, Ray Charles, Johnny Mathis and Mannheim Steamroller are a just few of the thousands of stars who have graced its stage.
In March, Charlie Blum will celebrate his 25th consecutive year as President and CEO of the Star Plaza Theatre. Prior to that, he was a marketing consultant for the 3400-seat theater from 1981 to 1983.
“The founders, or should I say the true visionaries, were Dean White, Bill Wellman and Bruce White,” Blum said. “Many people in the community thought Mr. Dean White was crazy for opening this venue in the middle of a cornfield but it turned out to be a brilliant decision.”
One of Blum’s outstanding memories, and there are many he said, is singing “Barbara Ann” on stage with the Beach Boys.
“It was so exciting,” Blum said. “The beauty of this business is that every show is its own experience and is so exciting. Almost every show I can think of some memory that happened.”
Kathy Miller, of Crown Point, remembers seeing Bill Cosby the first time he appeared at the Holiday Star.
“We went as a family and the cost for all six of us was $60,” Miller said. “He brought a chair out on stage and turned it around and sat down. He had running clothes on.”
Miller also took her dad there to see George Burns in the early 80s.
“We have gone to a lot of shows,” Miller said. “For our 25th wedding anniversary we saw Bill Cosby again and Sammy Davis Jr. He was great. I just loved him. We saw Bob Hope twice.”
Miller recalls Steve and Edyie Gorme performing more than two hours without a break.
“We have seen so many stars there, Dolly Parton, John Denver, Tim Conway and Harvey Korman, the Oak Ridge Boys three times, Mitzi Gaynor the very first time she was there, Roger Whitaker,” Miller said. “I took my late aunt to see Perry Como and we took my sister-in-law and her husband to see Liberace. That was fantastic because he had the dancing water behind him. That was gorgeous.”
Crown Point resident Patrick Cornett recalls seeing Gallagher with his best friend when he was 12 or 13 years old.
“He signed T-shirts for us before the show,” Cornett said. “As a kid it was a big thrill for the two of us to sit in the fourth row by ourselves and get autographs. We were big men on the town that night.”
Before the show the two friends went to the Arby’s right next door to the theatre and asked for garbage bags.
“We didn’t know the first 15 rows were going to be covered in plastic,” Cornett said.
Nick Mantis, owner of New Millennium Productions, remembers being asked by Star Plaza Theatre CEO Charlie Blum to film some footage of an elderly crowd during an Andy William's Holiday Show.
“I was tucked in between the curtains while Andy was on stage performing and when the time was right I slowly pointed my camera from behind the curtain towards the crowd,” Mantis said. “When I looked through my view finder, I saw the most wonderful scene I may ever have seen. I saw rows and rows of the happiest senior citizens there could ever be. As Andy Williams was performing holiday classics for them these wonderful senior citizens were in a world of complete happiness. I began to tear up as I was filming them and realized at that moment how wonderful it must've been for Andy Williams and other performers who perform for an elderly crowd to be performing and see such joy.”
“Charlie Blum always says that he loves his job because he creates memories,” Mantis said. “Well I cherish that memory very much. God bless Andy Williams for the performer he was.”
Former Crown Point resident Suze Foss, who now resides in Evansville, said she loved seeing Ed Ames star in Don Quixote.
“I think that was the very first play I saw there,” Foss said. “He was truly wonderful. I loved having the Star Theatre in our back yard, so to speak, because my family was theater lovers.”
Former Star Plaza Theatre employee Mike Creswell, who now lives in Florida, said the majority of entertainers were pleasant to him.
Creswell said Bill Cosby was “quite a character.”
There was an orchestra on stage behind the curtain and Cosby picked up a baton and started playing conductor, Creswell said. Another time Cosby bought a couple paintings a local artist had on display.
“He gave me the paintings saying ‘This is for Camille my wife,’” Creswell said.
Against his better judgment, Creswell placed the paintings in the trunk. One painting was damaged with a quarter-sized hole caused by a loose tire iron. At first Cosby was annoyed but fortunately, his sense of humor shone through when he pointed Creswell out to the artist jokingly saying ‘This is the dude who messed up my painting,’ Creswell said.
Of all the well-known entertainers, however, theater founder and philanthropist Dean White said one stands apart in his memory – Bob Hope.
“We had a lot of good people but the one that definitely was the biggest for me was Bob Hope,” White said. “He was a good friend to me and his wife Dolores was a good friend to my wonderful wife.”
Dean and Barbara White entertained Bob and Dolores Hope at their Crown Point home many times, he said.
“Of course, we went out and played golf at the University Country Club and would go out at night with them when they weren’t doing anything,” White said.
The two friends golfed at Innsbrook Country Club in Merrillville and other Northwest Indiana courses. In California, they golfed with many celebrities, White said.
“We had a great time,” White said. “At the time we had a place out in California and so did they. When we went there in winter we were with them all the time. They were great people.”
White says Hope, who died at age 100 in 2003, was “a great guy, a wonderful person and he golfed well too.”
Blum said he has made many friendships throughout the years with the stars, especially those who return for repeat performances.
Blum has become personal friends with Carl Giammarese of the Buckingham’s, Anita Baker, performers from the Chi-Lites and Kevin Cronin from REO Speedwagon, with whom he has dinner regularly.
“Growing up my parents were fans of Mitzi Gaynor, and I have gone out for dinner with her,” Blum said.
Blum fondly recalls being at the Star Plaza the night the late David Ruffin came on stage and sang with the Temptations.
Some memories involve drama. One night David Copperfield became dehydrated after a show and had to be taken to a local hospital prior to his second scheduled performance.
One hour prior to a show featuring the Temptations and the Four Tops, one of the singers was stuck on a tarmac in Boston, Blum said.
“We had to scramble,” Blum said. “So we started a little late, got a comedian from the Comedy Club at the hotel to open the show, and took an intermission before the Four Tops came on. We had police escorts to get the guy here from the airport. The show went on and nobody had a clue.”
Jay Leno once invited a wedding party in for photos, Blum said. His was only one of many acts of kindness by visiting celebrities.
About 20 minutes prior to the recent Alice Cooper concert, guitarist Ryan Roxie and drummer Glen Sobel met with ten teenage Books Brushes and Bands for Education (BBB4E) program participants.
“They encouraged the kids to follow their dreams, enjoy music, excel in school and to be open minded about their futures,” said Damian Rico, a BBB4E board member.
Rico said the teenagers “were in awe” when they met the celebrities.
“They were very excited,” Rico said. “They were asking them questions about how they started and the most valuable lessons they learned. It was a nice candid conversation.”
Rico said Roxie, who has a program “Pay It Forward,” believes in influencing others, especially children, in a positive way. Roxie gave the teens “Pay It Forward” bracelets and free online guitar lessons. Later, Sobel sent a video-taped message to be played before an upcoming BBB4E recital at Purdue Calumet.
“Alice Cooper is a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member,” Rico said. “For them to see a person of that caliber in Merrillville, these kids are never going to forget that.”
Blum said he is truly grateful to Whiteco Industries and White Lodging for their continued support in making sure that Star Plaza Theatre provides a comfortable and inviting experience to its customers. Patrons will notice brand new carpeting throughout the entire facility, a new state-of-the-art sound system that is identical to the Chicago Theatre and Radio City Music Hall, a redesigned Celebrity Circle lounge and many other upgrades, Blum said.
“I am grateful to both Mr. Dean White and Mr. Bruce White for their vision and support. The Star Plaza Theatre has been under the same ownership and a major player in the entertainment industry for 34 years. I have seen many theaters close their doors and hundreds change management companies, including, but not limited to the iconic Chicago Theatre going through two bankruptcies and numerous management changes. I always benchmark our concert schedule around other midsize suburban venues and I am proud to say our show schedule is more extensive than any other suburban Chicagoland venue and still, to this day, fulfills the mission of the White family in 1979 to be a premier Midwest concert facility and destination offering something for everyone.”