University City

SouthPark resident savors 4 decades of CPCC summer theater, awaits more

Land Hite always has mixed feelings this time of year.

He’s sad to see the summer theater season end at Central Piedmont Community College, yet he’s excited to see what’s coming the following year. This will be 40 consecutive years of anticipation.

The SouthPark resident just finished four decades of watching CPCC summer productions, starting at age 14 with individual performances and for the past 27 years with his wife, Laura Anne, as season ticketholders. Since seeing “The Sound of Music” with his parents, brother and sister in 1974 – the second year of CPCC’s productions – he’s become so loyal to the affordable excellence that all other entertainment options take a backseat.

“I’m not a theater critic, and I’m not one who’s comfortable onstage,’” Hite says. “But I like live theater. I’ve seen CPCC’s quality go from pretty good to off-the-charts, from costuming and lighting and sound to the sets.

“And the Halton Theatre is a great stage. My wife and I take a lot of people, and most of them have never been to a CPCC summer theater production or have never been to Halton Theater. A couple years ago, I took a CEO of a major company here in Charlotte and his wife to the theater. He walked in before the production even started and said, ‘Wow. This facility is probably the nicest theater on any community college campus in North Carolina.’ ”

Hite and his wife say the ticket prices of $18 and $22 combine to provide a bargain that outshoots pricier, mainstream venues. The CPCC series features four adult performances each summer – three musicals on the big stage at the Halton and a comedy or murder mystery at Pease Auditorium – along with a kids production.

Hite still ranks “The Sound of Music” as one of his favorite performances at CPCC since 1974.

“It’s traditional, it’s familiar, and it brings back memories from childhood,” he says, adding that he also enjoyed comedies “The Producers” (written and directed by Mel Brooks) and “The Foreigner.”

CPCC summer theater is a family tradition for the Hites. Land’s parents were regular patrons for many years before his father died in 2003; his mother, Julia, continues to be a season subscriber. Land bought tickets to individual performances for many years through college.

“My parents took our family regularly to see family-friendly musicals each summer,” he says. “While home from UNC Chapel Hill each summer, I would purchase tickets to take dates to see great theater and usually dinner beforehand – and doughnuts at Krispy Kreme on Hawthorne and Independence afterwards. These were the days before the Blumenthal Performing Arts Broadway Lights Series or even the modern day college hangout, the Epicenter.”

After moving back to Charlotte, he became a season ticketholder with his wife. Laura Anne Hite was no stranger to CPCC summer theater even then.

“It’s a very comfortable, friendly environment,” she says. “You get really high-quality sets, props and costumes, and over the years the sound system has been upgraded so it’s top-notch.”

The Hites and Tom Hollis, artistic summer theater director at CPCC for the past 30 years, also cite the talent of some longtime performers. CPCC summer theater alumni currently or formerly on Broadway, or in touring casts, include Montego Glover, nominated for a 2010 Tony Award for her performance in the lead role in the musical “Memphis” and Christopher Fitzgerald, also nominated for a 2010 Tony as a featured actor in the musical “Finian’s Rainbow.”

“These young kids coming up start when they’re young, and they know a lot more when they get to college than they used to,” Hollis says.

“We’ve grown quite a bit over our 30 years, the biggest change being the college’s building of the (1,020-seat) Dale F. Halton Theater eight years ago.”

The size of the venue gives the productions more options with scenery.

“We’ve also got a completely new costume shop, so we updated our ability to construct and maintain the costumes.”

Kathy Scott Rummage, CPCC’s executive director of communications, estimates that during the past four decades CPCC summer theater has had 215 shows, 6,000 actors and technicians, and sold 912,000 seats.

“It’s only going to get better,” Land Hite says.