In 1992 several strangers met and became friends during the Stage Door Ensemble’s production of The Pirates of Penzance. In 1994 Jan Sheldon and Sara Achor founded the Moonlight Players. With a monetary birthday gift from Jan’s dad, they decided to produce The Sound of Music with Jan directing, Sara music directing, Chris Walsh and Lee Matheny designing lights, and Diana White and Bonny Ray designing the costumes. This production included two separate casts of children and was performed at the new South Lake High School auditorium.
In November of that year Moonlight produced Nunsence to sold-out audiences at the Lakeridge Winery, ultimately completing 19 shows. The next spring they performed their first Shakespeare production, The Merry Wives of Windsor. They produced 3 more shows at the winery; Bye, Bye Birdie, the one-woman show The Belle of Amherst, and Into the Woods, which was the largest production to date. Props included a nine foot high hand which was dropped onto the stage from the curtains. Sunday shows at the winery had to compete with the Sunday afternoon tours going through the staging area. Since the winery was enlarging and needing more space, Moonlight began a frantic search for a new home.
In the spring of 1996, Moonlight produced the 2-man show, Greater Tuna at the Citrus Sun Club, the Mulberry Inn and a weekend’s performance at The Melon Patch Theatre in Leesburg. During the summer twin shows were produced at the Citrus Sun Club. You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown and Snoopy! The Musical were produced with a young persons cast and crew.
Our first official season began in October 1996 with Dracula, performed at Jenkins Auditorium as a Halloween offering. Cinderella, performed next at South Lake High School, featured a guest director, Alan Wilson, the artistic director of the Melon Patch Players. Back again at Jenkins we produced Steel Magnolias. We delayed the opening of Guys & Dolls 3 times, hoping to open at what we thought would be our new venue, Colony Cove Pier House. It was not to be, and so we finally opened the show in April at Jenkins, and ended the season there with Barefoot in the Park.
Our second season opened in November 1997 with Arsenic and Old Lace and in February of 1998 Moonlight produced Man of La Mancha, one of our favorites. Our second Shakespeare production was a reading of Macbeth, performed at the Mulberry Inn in Clermont. Local author/actor granted us permission to perform his adaptation of Alice in Wonderland at Jenkins Auditorium, and The Gin Game followed in July and an encore of Nunsense with most of the original cast in August.
Twice Around the Park opened our 1998-1999 season with The Best Christmas Pageant Ever following. At this time we signed the lease for our new Moonlight Warehouse Theatre and began renovations. The building was originally a car shop, with a metal lift stage right that clanged every time someone walked across it. In February Animal Farm, the Musical, performed at Jenkins, proved to be as revolutionary for the cast as for the animals the show depicted. The Odd Couple, performed in April, was our last show at Jenkins Auditorium.
July 31, 1999 was the grand opening of the Moonlight Warehouse Theatre. We invited members of the community to celebrate with us and attend our first production in the new theatre: Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Nights Dream, set in the old west. The old garage door was still on the front entrance and proved to be a noisy distraction when patrons arrived late.
Our first full season at the new theatre began with The Cemetery Club, and another production of Nunsence and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. It also saw the first production of Le Silence Fait, the first show of the Moonlight Players Mime Bogglers, following weekly classes in the art of mime, with instructor Greg Powers. In January we had an acoustic folk music Wing Ding with much music and singing. The rest of the season followed with Love Letters, The Boys Next Door, The Fantasticks, and Rumors, which was the first show to be performed on our new raised stage.
The 2000-2001 season brought a new entrance door and our first Moonshadow program, allowing new directors to try their hand. The Show was Plaza Suite, with 3 people directing one of the three acts. This was followed by Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat which featured a 20 minute tableau at the beginning of the show. The Foreigner followed, then, in October, our first live radio show broadcast from the theatre: The War of the Worlds. Greetings followed and Le Silence Fait II, followed by Bermuda Avenue Triangle, a reprise of Joseph, a young person’s production of Once Upon a Mattress, True West, and the melodrama, Love Rides the Rails.
Season 2001-2002 packed 9 shows into the year, beginning with The Rainmaker. Little Shop of Horrors featured two separate casts, one a complete young persons company, alternating their performances on the stage. Next, Dickens A Christmas Carol then our 3rd Le Silence Fait was performed by our mimes in January, followed by Godspell, Come Back To the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, Fools, The Nerd, and our fall Shakespeare Romeo and Juliet.
The Rocky Horror Show opened our next season with several midnight performances and showed to sold-out audiences. It was followed by A Tuna Christmas with a new cast, Deathtrap, Camelot, Harvey, a 3-man cast of The Cmplt Word of God; The Bible Abridged, and I Hate Hamlet. We ended the season in August with a young company performance of The Wizard of Oz.
Our 2003 – 2004 season opened with The Importance of Being Earnest, and for Halloween, the stage adaptation of Stephen King’s Misery. For Christmas we again did The Best Christmas Pageant Ever with a new cast of children, and Lost in Yonkers, Annie, The Cmplt Wks of Wm Shkspr (Abridge), and ended our season with Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Nights Dream, which was again set in the old west and completed our 10th season.
In October, our 2004-2005 season brought Snoopy! The Musical which was quickly put together by cast and crew after 3 hurricanes whirled through central Florida and a mishap with the rights to Grease, followed by Man of La Mancha, and another showing of Nunsense with a new cast. Continuing the 2004-2005 season was the Moonlight & Stars Benefit Gala presented by the Second Star Guild at the Elks Club. In June we presented Oliver! and our fall Shakespeare was Taming of the Shrew.
We began our 2005-2006 season in November with Scrooge, The Musical, followed by Into the Woods, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Over the River and Through the Woods, and ended with Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona, set in the 1980’s.
In September of 2006 we opened with Shakespeare’s Hamlet, alternating with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, and followed by Annie Get Your Gun. Next, Urinetown, the Musical, Moon Over Buffalo, and The Secret Garden were performed. All Stars, written by a local author and actor Tom Kline was a summer show, and Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, set in 1969, ended the season.
The 2007-2008 season opened with the classic, Peter Pan, with a wonderful illusion of flying, even on the small stage. The chiller musical, No Way To Treat A Lady was performed in October, and January brought back Guys and Dolls. Next came Barefoot in the Park, Clue, The Musical, based on the Parker Brothers board game, then The Dinner Game. During the summer Moonlight presented 9 Months, another show by local author Tom Kline, and the season ended with Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, set on the island of Messina, and inhabited by pirates, with one of the most elaborate sets ever.