A Brief History of El Dorado Musical Theatre

A Brief History of El Dorado Musical Theatre

On July 6th, 2001 at 7:00 in the evening, the curtain went up on The Frog Prince. At that moment, El Dorado Musical Theatre was born.

That first production included 38 cast members with a set of “older” and “younger” leads. From this modest start, word began to spread about the new theater company for young performers. By the time auditions were held for the following show, Cavalcade of Broadway, 87 young performers had arrived.

The artistic vision for the company was driven by two of the founders, John P. Healy, Jr., and Debbie Wilson.

John had founded San Jose Children’s Musical Theater in 1968 at the age of 17. After working with a talented choreographer named Debbie Wilson in 1985, DeeDee Healy encouraged John to recruit her so the two could work together.

What followed was John and Debbie directing and choreographing shows together for many years in San Jose. Their careers found them together again at Lincoln High School, the performing arts magnet school for the region, where they continued to be a creative force.

After John moved to the El Dorado Hills area to become the drama teacher at Oak Ridge High School, John and DeeDee began a four-year campaign to get Debbie to move to the region too.

Persuaded, Debbie moved her family to El Dorado Hills in 2000 and quickly realized that this was an ideal spot for a youth theater company. She convinced John to help her launch the group and 18 months later the first show became a reality.

Debbie assumed the role of Artistic Director for the company in 2002 and began guiding the creative direction of EDMT. She is still the artistic director today.

It soon became apparent that there was a significant desire in the community for a place where young people could learn how to sing, dance, and act.

In 2003, EDMT acquired a rehearsal facility and administrative offices. The Performing Arts Institute was founded shortly thereafter providing classes and workshops.

In 2004, the very first Training Show was performed to allow performers between the ages of 5-9 to develop their skills. As a nod to the past, the first show was The Frog Prince; the very same show that had launched the company three years before.

Later that year, EDMT begin performing in the 698 seat Jill Solberg Performing Arts Theater at Folsom High School. The first show performed at the new venue was the Main Stage production of Starmites.

That summer, the very first production number featuring tap dancing occurred in the Rising Stars production of Schoolhouse Rock. The number was called “Conjunction Junction.” Tap dancing has made a number of appearances in shows from SpyQuest – An Agent 006-1/2 Adventure to 42nd Street.

The fall 2004 production of The Wizard of OZ brought another first: the first show to feature flying effects.

ZFX (the company who created the flying effects for Cathy Rigby’s Peter Pan and Wicked) were brought in to teach our team. The group of fathers who made the flying effects a reality for the show became affectionately know as the “Fly Dads.”

Over the years, the “Fly Dads” have made many appearances including productions of: The Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan, Disney’s Aladdin, A Christmas Carol, and Disney’s and Cameron Mackintosh’s Mary Poppins.

The 2004 production of The Wizard of OZ also included personal appearances by two of the original Munchkins from the 1939 movie. They were both able to return during our second production of The Wizard of OZ in 2009. This coincided with the 70th anniversary of the film’s release.

The start of 2005 saw the production of the first musical created specifically for EDMT with the Training Show, The Greatest Race. This was followed by a series of custom-created shows. The Training Show program has grown to feature three complete casts.

The summer of 2005 brought the production of Barnum. It was performed in a full-sized circus tent in the middle of what is now the Target parking lot at the El Dorado Hills Town Center. The cast received special circus training that ranged from tight rope walking to using the Spanish Rope 40 feet above the circus floor.

On a sad note, co-founder John Healy stepped away from active participation in EDMT after directing Barnum! due to health issues. He passed away in August 2007. Hundreds of mourners spanning several generations came to his memorials, many of whom shared how he had touched their lives.

In February 2006, the very first Encore production was staged with the musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. This was the first “audition only” show and featured a select cast of performers. Encore productions remain the only EDMT shows that follow the traditional system where only a few of those who audition are selected to be a part of the cast.

In February 2009, at the cast party of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, a special announcement was made. That night the vision behind High Voltage, The Tour Group, was revealed. High Voltage was created to be the premier performing group and would become the “performance ambassadors” for EDMT.

Also announced that night was that High Voltage would be performing aboard the Carnival Cruise Ship Splendor just 5 months later. The first cast included 33 members. They performed at venues from the California State Capital Rotunda to Disneyland.

High Voltage performs in a series of shows performed at the Harris Center throughout the year as well as upholding their roles as performance ambassadors throughout the region.

Over the years, EDMT has been regularly recognized for excellence by the Sacramento Area Regional Theater Alliance (SARTA) Elly Awards. EDMT received every award (16) in the Young People’s Musicals categories for the 2006-07 season.

After winning the Best Overall Production award 6 years in a row, EDMT decided to step aside from competing.

The performing arts in the area experienced a great boost with the opening of the Harris Center in spring of 2011. It features three stages with the largest being an 850 seat theater. The Harris Center presents performances from national tours of Broadway shows to Grammy Award winning musicians.

Each season, El Dorado Musical Theatre continues to raise the bar on the level of its productions. Digital projection effects have become a standard part of shows along with flying effects, and eye catching costumes and makeup.

Combined with the excellence of the performers, it has lifted EDMT to its reputation of being one of the premier regional youth theater companies in the United States.

You can learn more about EDMT’s production on our Past Shows page.