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About
Opera House Theater Company

Inspiring artists and audiences since 1985

In 1983 Broadway actor Lou Criscuolo, was hired to perform in the 125th anniversary show for Thalian Hall.  He fell in love with the beautiful theatre, with the charm of Wilmington, and with Mary James Morgan, who worked at the Hall.  They were a great team; Lou brought his many years of Broadway experience and know-how, and Mary James brought her Wilmington connections and marketing skills.  

 

On March 7, 1985, Lou and Mary James opened their first production, "Cactus Flower", starring Joe Namath and his wife, Deborah Mays.  After "Cactus Flower",  Opera House Theatre Company received its non-profit status and a grant from the North Carolina State Arts Council.   The 1985 Company Manager for Opera House Theatre Company, Catherine Lea, said,  “OHTC's 1985 summer season was the first full-scale summer season of theater ever done in Thalian Hall and many advised Lou against doing it.  He did it anyway and proved them all wrong!   "Fiddler on the Roof",  was followed by  "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum", followed by "Arsenic and Old Lace", which debuted Frank Capra, Jr."

 

And so the tradition started, of bringing in guest professionals to inspire and work alongside local performers.   

 

Over the past three and a half decades, thousands of local actors, directors, choreographers, musicians and technicians have developed their craft working among professionals with Opera House Theatre Company.  Several have since followed their passions touring the world, performing with symphonies, dance companies, cruise ships or working behind the scenes on creative crews.  Alumni have joined the casts of fourteen Broadway shows and sixteen National tours such as: "Hamilton", "Wicked", "Cats", "Fosse", "Les Miserables”, "Motown the Musical", "Book of Mormon", "Oklahoma", "Monty Python’s Spamalot”, "Wizard of Oz”, "Dirty Dancing”, "Cabaret”, "Sound of Music”, "Grease”,  "A Chorus Line”,  "Footloose”, "Legally Blonde" and "Hairspray".   OHTC produces two winter and six summer musicals, totaling ninety full length shows annually with casts of 30-55 technicians and entertainers ages 7-83.  Through these shows, small paid positions are created for local independent contractors, musicians and technicians affording Wilmington artists an opportunity to perform alongside family, friends and current Broadway, TV & Film professionals.

 

Theatre is continuously changing, and the memories it creates lasts lifetimes.   Mary James and Lou will never be forgotten, and Opera House Theatre Company will go on in their honor.

 

In February 2019, under the leadership of OHTC's new Executive Artistic Director Justin Smith, OHTC's two person show, "Always…. Patsy Cline'', attracted over 3,400 people. By the end of 2019, OHTC broke all ticket sales records, with over 25,000 people attending the 2019 season shows, far surpassing any other renter, in the history of Thalian Hall Center of the Performing Arts.  January 1, 2020 - March 8, 2020 over 9,600 people supported OHTC, by attending the two winter shows,    "La Cage Aux Folles" and "The Sound of Music".  

 

"Footloose" February 18-20 + February 25-27, 2022 was our first full scale musical back on the main stage since March 8, 2020.

It was celebrated with over 4,400 audience members and 10 sold out houses.  "Grease" kicked off the summer season with 3 weekends of sold out houses, entertaining over 6,200 theatre-goers.

 

OHTC  legacy has been emerging, strengthening and evolving since 1985, because what is legacy, but a gift, we receive from our predecessors.  Our legacy from Mary James and Lou, Justin Smith, Jeanne Criscuolo, their families and all of our OHTC friends, is rich, and full of life.  Since the beginning of this new creative partnership, we have committed ourselves to enriching and helping sustain the love of live theatre and arts education.   The OHTC legacy is a phenomenal gift and an awesome responsibility.  Your support plays a pivotal role in helping Opera House continue to create live theatre now and for future generations. No matter how many times we say it, it’s always true…we absolutely could not do what we do without you.

 

THANK YOU! 

Meet the Team

Collectively, with over 218 years of professional show-business & community theatre backgrounds, the Artistic Team's knowledge & vast connections in the business bring unique opportunities for students and actors in our community.  By bringing in professional artists to work alongside local performers, their vision is to create a higher level of local theatre through unique shared experiences.

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Justin Smith

Executive Artistic Director

Justin holds a BFA in Theatre from St. Michael’s College in Vermont, has produced over 100 shows in Wilmington and directed more than two dozen productions such as: The Color Purple, Spamalot, Memphis, Sister Act, RENT,  and Always...Patsy Cline.  Some of his favorite acting roles have been Petruchio, Iago, Orsino, Frank-N-Furter, Gaston in Beauty and the Beast and Norbert Garsteki in The Great American Trailer Park the Musical.  Justin's television and film credits include: Highwaymen, Fear of the Walking Dead, Birth of a Nation, Good Behavior, Outer Banks, One Tree Hill, Dawson's Creek and Matlock.  Over the past years he has been part of over twelve businesses including Carolina Theatre Group, LLC and City Stage.  When he isn't involved with theatre and film or volunteering for the community, he is most likely working in one of his restaurants. Currently he owns Yo Sake, The Husk, Dram + Morsel and Ann Bonny's.  But Justin considers his biggest job to be raising his twelve year old son, Noah with his wife, Bekah.

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TINA LEAK

Executive Producer

Tina is a former Radio City Music Hall Rockette & has worked with: Maurice & Gregory Hines, Ben Vereen, Mercedes Ellington, Gregg Burge, Judith Jamison, Carmen de Lavallade, David Cassidy, Randy Skinner & Muhammad Ali. She was a member of both the national & international touring companies of Balletap USA and DancEllington;  a featured dancer at the MGM Grand, Harrahs Casino & the Billboard Music Awards in Las Vegas; Chinese New Year Celebration in China, Hong Kong Arts Festival; in commercials for Honda Motorcycles, Sapporo Beer, Diet Pepsi and is a former back-up dancer for PINK.  Choreography experience spans theatre, television, cruise ships & Super Bowl XXXII Halftime Show. While performing she also taught dance all over the US & 14 countries.  Some of her students went on to perform on Broadway,  cruise ships, with Disney & The Rockettes.  She is listed in Who’s Who in Dance; has been awarded American Dance Achievement Award; Reach Out Touch a Youth Award; Radio City Music Hall Rockette Showmanship Award and a Star News Theatre Award for Best Choreography. After retiring in 1999 as featured showgirl in Spellbound Las Vegas, Tina signed on with MGM-Mirage Corporation as Director of VIP Marketing & Sales for Nightclubs & Entertainment. Since moving to Wilmington, Tina has served on the Board of Trustees for  Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts for 5 years; Thalian Association Community Theatre for 6 years, assisting with re-organization of the Youth Academy classes & the creation of Community Outreach Programs and recently as a Grant Panelist with South Arts Organization. Joining OHTC in 2018 she now works in Development & Audience Services overseeing events, sponsorships, season tickets, and enjoys meeting OHTC supporters. 

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Ray Kennedy

Producer

"Hark the Herald Angels Swing" was created by Ray over 16 years ago and it continues to be one of OHTC's largest fundraisers, now spanning 3 nights in two locations.  Ray has worked with Opera House Theater Company for over 30 years as a Director and Choreographer on awarded productions such as "Oklahoma!," (Best Musical, Best Director) "Chicago," (Best Musical,) "Hairspray," (Best Musical, Best Choreography) "Kiss Me Kate," (Best Choreography) "Cinderella," (Best Choreography) "A Little Night Music," (Best Musical), "Mama Mia." (Best Ensemble), "Five Guys Named Moe" (Best Choreography).   Ray has appeared on "Keeping Up With the Kardashians"; toured with "A Chorus Line";  was Director of Entertainment for 22 years on the Palm Beach Princes & spent many years at sea, as the owner/producer of Kennedy Entertainment, onboard The Queen Elizabeth 2, Royal Viking Sun, Sagafjord, Vistafjord, Stella Solaris, American Hawaii Cruise vessel's SS Independence, MS Patriot, Crown Dynasty & Crown Monarch.  Ray has produced "Lost in the Fifties" and "Country Tonite!" In Branson, Missouri, choreographed Diet Pepsi commercials, Disney films, "One Tree Hill" and fashion shows all over the USA for designer SHERRI HILL. For 10 years Ray worked as Vice President of Programs and Service and musical arranger for the USO of New York. Ray is a newly accredited playwright and currently splits his time between OHTC and The Wick Theatre in Boca Raton, Florida.  He loves Opera House Theater Company and Thalian Hall and thanks all his friends for their never ending support.  

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CARSON HOBBS

Producer & Director of Education

Carson has been working as a performer, choreographer, and teacher for the past 25 years and is hugely passionate about arts education.  She is originally from Wilmington and has a B.A. in Fine Arts from New School University in NYC, after 3 years at UGA and NYU (Tisch).  Professionally, she was on Broadway in WICKED (Witch’s Mother/ensemble), as well as the LA/Chicago/Nat’l tour companies. Her favorite credits include A Chorus Line (Cassie), Spring Awakening (dir/choreo), The Full Monty (Vicki/choreo), Nights on Broadway (dance capt, dir. Andy Blankenbeuhler), Footloose, Elton John’s “Yellow Brick Road” 35th Anniversary Concert, and  BCEFA benefits (Gershwin, Neil Simon, and Minskoff, Broadway). Televisions and commercial credits include ESPN, One Life to Live, MasterCard, Inside Edition, Toy’s R ‘Us, The Today Show, and Bell South.  She has taught at Broadway Dance Center, Stagecoach LA, Dallas Ballet Center, Kennesaw State University, Orbit Arts Academy, as well as studios all over the southeast, and is now the first theatre dance teacher on faculty at UNCW in the Theatre Department.  She founded the first dance & theatre program at Hope Hill Elementary in Atlanta, is a proud teaching artist at Dreams of Wilmington and Classical Charter School of ILM. The first musical she ever saw was an Opera House production, as was the first show she was ever in, so now being a part of the OHTC team is an absolute thrill.  Carson is the Director of Education for OHTC’s Youth Program, overseeing all classes, workshops, and community outreach. After 8 years in Atlanta, she just moved back to NC with her husband, Ryan, and her four children Jake, Lucy, Mae, and Will.   www.carsonhobbs.com

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BRIAN WHITTED

OHTC Music Director

Brian, is a native of Fayetteville, NC. and is a product of homeschooling, North Carolina School of the Arts (high school) and UNC Greensboro. He moved to NYC and immediately started performing and music directing countless cabarets with stars, including Stephanie Mills, Roberta Flack, Tony Terry, Melba Moore, BeBe Winans, Phylicia Rashad, Mario Cantone, Brian McKnight, Ashford & Simpson and Cook, Dixon & Young, Jennifer Holliday, Dionne Warwick.  After making his Broadway debut as a musician in "Chicago", Brian was invited to play other Broadway shows such as: "The Color Purple", "Shuffle Along" and "Violet".  He has toured throughout the US, Japan, Canada, Mexico & Israel with more than 3 Broadway companies - some of which continue to call him today. Over the years, he has worked with countless Broadway stars such as: Anne Reinking, Christy Brinkley, Tracey Lee, Lynn Whitfield, Jared Grimes & Brandy, to name only a few. His music can be heard on many soundtracks & group albums including "Don't Trip On the Glitter". Before relocating to Wilm in 2020, he added Broadway Conductor to his impressive resume. Brian's OHTC debut was in "Pricilla Queen of the Dessert", followed by "La Cage Aux Folles”, ”The Piano Men” and all shows since.  The was featured in 2022 Summer show “Grease” as Teen Angel.  Brian is OHTC’s resident Music Director.

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Jason Aycock

OHTC Company Manager & Apprentice Theatre Coordinator

Jason has been involved in the Wilmington Theatre Community for more than 13 years and has been a part of more than 100 productions as either performer, choreographer, director, or artistic director. He is proud to have been involved with Opera House Theatre Company since 2005.  Jason has been the Youth Theatre Coordinator since 2017, is one of the lead instructors for OHTC's education department and is OHTC's new Building Supervisor and Company Manager.

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Kaitlin Baden

Graphic Designer & Director of Social Media Marketing

Kaitlin is a stage, television and film actress who received her undergraduate degrees in Music and Theatre Arts from UNC-Chapel Hill, and then continued on to earn her Master’s degree in K-12 education.  Her graduate work allowed her to teach in Alamance and Orange counties where she realized that she truly had a love for all grades, but particularly elementary school.  Post-degree, she found a home at Myrtle Grove Middle School for 7 years as their chorus/drama teacher, and also as the US coordinator of the Strasbourg-Amities USA “English literacy through theatre” camp in Strasbourg, France.  She fully believes that the arts are an integral part of a well-rounded education and life, and she is so excited to foster the love and appreciation for at hearts in all of our children.  Kaitlin is the Principal of Wilmington School of the Arts and we are honored she splits her time with OHTC where she wears many hats.  Not only does she create beautiful graphic designs, she is an instructor for OHTC’s education department, where she teaches Acting for Film, Audition Technique and Digital Program workshops. 

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Jeanne Criscuolo

Director of Hospitality

When Jeanne met Lou at a cast party in 2003, his first question was, “Are you an actor?” When she responded that she was indeed not an actor, his second question was, “Ya' wanna have lunch?”.  They were married in 2004 and theatre became her life.  Jeanne always loved theatre and had opportunities to enjoy productions in a variety of cities.  In Beaufort, SC she performed with Byrne Miller’s Dance Company and has continued her studies in many cities throughout her travels.  Jeanne’s theatre life with Lou was intense, exciting and extremely rewarding, his legacy to Jeanne is a fabulous theatre family of exceptional people.  As Director of Hospitality, she enjoys meeting supporters and hearing stories of their histories with OHTC.  Jeanne is OHTC's biggest cheerleader, and we are hers too.

Board of Directors

Patrick & Lisa Ballantine 

Steve & Louise Coggins

Beth Crookham 

Ben David 

Gil Johnson 

Debbie Pfaff 

Jeff Phillips 

Dr Eric & Jean Rosenberg 

Laura Sterner

Alex & Tracey Torello   

Dr Ken & Lena White 

Chuck Whitlock 

Jenny McKinnon Wright