September 20, 2022

Since 1972, the passionate students and staff at OPAS have worked tirelessly to bring top-tier musical and theatrical talent to Texas A&M University’s campus for Aggies and the Brazos County community to enjoy. This year, OPAS is celebrating its 50th season in style with a slate of unforgettable productions, including “Legally Blonde: The Musical,” “The Simon and Garfunkel Story” and “STOMP.”

To help ring in OPAS’ golden anniversary, longtime executive director Anne Black remembered some of the organization’s most notable performances and reminisced on the behind-the-scenes goings-on that made them happen. 

1984: London Philharmonic Orchestra

Standing tall among the most prestigious symphonies in the world, the London Philharmonic Orchestra had performed on soundtracks for “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Antony and Cleopatra” and “Tron” by the time the virtuoso musicians touched down in College Station. “In those days, OPAS would put on a big reception for season ticket holders after the first performance at the Ramada Inn,” Black said. “The executive staff had just invited the conductor, but on the night of, he arrived in a bus with all 80 members!” OPAS staff had to delay their own dinners to feed the group, but all showed satisfaction with their experience before hopping on a plane back across the pond. 

1986: Hal Holbrook

Photo provided by OPAS

Tickets were sold out far in advance for Hal Holbrook’s famous one-man show, “Mark Twain Tonight!”, in which the actor performed in character as the late father of American literature. On the morning of the performance, however, tragedy struck as the space shuttle Challenger disintegrated in flight on national television. “It was my first season as program coordinator, and I thought, ‘No one is going to come,’” Black said. Despite the nation’s collective mourning, the performance went on with Holbrook offering a subtle tribute. “Before the show started, there was a moment of silence. When he came out, he looked at the audience and said, ‘Thank you all for coming.’ It seems simple, but he acknowledged that it had been a tough day for all of us.” 

1988: “Cats”

Photo provided by OPAS

“‘Cats’ was the first Broadway musical we ever booked,” Black remembered. And it was a doozy. Andrew Lloyd Weber’s slightly surreal feline spectacle had already transcended Broadway and taken over the nation when it arrived in Rudder Auditorium, and the Aggie community was paw-sitively dying to see instant classics like “Memory” live on stage. “Every show we had done before was a one-night performance. We knew this was special, though, so we booked three nights, and all three sold out quickly.”  

1990: Bolshoi Ballet Grigorovich Company

Photo provided by OPAS

During the twilight of the Soviet Union, Yuri Gigorovich, the Russian artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet Grigorovich Company, toured various college campuses across America to debut what would surely be a momentous production of “The Nutcracker.” “He had borrowed money from the U.S. government to start the young company, which just didn’t happen back then,” Black stated. Impressed by the Aggies’ warm reception, Gigorovich chose Texas A&M, making national headlines. Eight of the company’s nine performances sold out, and the dancers enjoyed public recognition at Kyle Field during halftime at the Aggies’ game against The University of Texas.  

1997: “Cirque Ingenieux”

For several weeks in the dog days of summer 1997, the gymnasts, dancers and crew of the international “Cirque Ingenieux” called Texas A&M’s unoccupied dorms home. As stagehands refitted Rudder Auditorium to host the company’s high-flying acrobatic acts, many performers practiced openly in the newly constructed Rec Center, drawing crowds of mystified Aggies lingering for hours as they watched the foreign athletes spin and glide on aerial silks. After some preview performances in Rudder, the circus kicked off its world tour in Dallas before swinging back around to put on a couple more shows for their devoted fans in Aggieland. 

1999: “Les Misérables”  

Photo provided by OPAS

Revolution was in the air on campus as eight buses sat parked on Throckmorton Street, their full-body decals conspicuously announcing the arrival of “Les Misérables.” The epic musical, which tells the story of the French Revolution through the eyes of former convict Jean Valjean, took Texas A&M by storm with eight sold-out performances during the spring semester. “It was the biggest show we had ever done,” Black said. “People came from all over—I even met a couple who had flown from Ohio to see it.” The company’s crowded stable of actors included budding actress Sutton Foster, who would go on to win two Tony awards for her roles in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and “Anything Goes” before starring alongside Hugh Jackman in the current Broadway revival of “The Music Man.” 

2002 : “Rent”

Photo provided by OPAS

Having established a reputation as a suitable host for top-tier Broadway touring companies, OPAS brought “Rent,” the musical that became a cultural sensation with its topical story about struggling artists and bohemians living with HIV at the height of the AIDS crisis in Manhattan’s East Village. To enhance the experience, OPAS also invited a production of “La Bohème,” the French opera upon which “Rent” is loosely based. “We offered a discount to students who bought tickets to both,” Black remembered. “We wanted students to connect the two through their timeless themes of love, loss, subculture, youth and passion.”  

2004: Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax 

Undoubtably the most famed cellist in the world, Yo-Yo Ma’s list of accomplishments defies summary. When the string virtuoso visited Aggieland, he brought Grammy-winning pianist Emanuel Ax with him, eliciting much excitement for a relatively quiet night of classical music.  

“As usual, we asked them to join our donors for a reception onstage after the show,” Black said. “Their manager made clear that they couldn’t stay for more than 10 minutes because they had to leave and catch an early flight. When our program coordinator went to get them for the reception, they were nowhere to be found, and we all panicked, thinking they were gone. Well, it turned out they were already onstage. The two ended up spending 40 minutes taking pictures and signing autographs. They were maybe the most gracious performers we ever had.” 

2011: Steve Martin and The Steep Canyon Rangers 

Photo provided by OPAS

Though known around the world for his memorable roles in films like “The Jerk,” “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” and “Father of the Bride,” actor and comedian Steve Martin proved he was no joke as a musician when he brought The Steep Canyon Rangers, a North Carolina bluegrass band, to College Station and spent an evening demonstrating his banjo-picking prowess. “There was a comedic element in his banter between songs, but it was all about bluegrass,” Black said. Backstage, Martin charmed the OPAS staff and sponsors with his courtesy and professionalism, making many new fans during his brief but unforgettable visit. 

2014: Willie Nelson  

“You know, there’s country, and then there’s Willie,” Black stated. Perhaps Texas’ greatest songwriter and the defining icon of outlaw country, Willie Nelson enjoyed the same reverence upon visiting campus that he has received across the state for decades. It wasn’t his first time in Aggieland, but that did not diminish the excitement in Rudder Auditorium when Nelson ambled onstage and dove right into “Whiskey River,” following up the hit with classic tunes like “Always on My Mind,” “Crazy” and Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It Through the Night” before accepting a standing ovation and hitting the road for the next stop in his seemingly never-ending tour. 

2015: Jerry Seinfeld  

Photo provided by OPAS

After Aggies gave a warm reception to Carol Burnett’s comedy set in 2013, OPAS decided to invest in comedy and recruit a true stand-up icon in Jerry Seinfeld, the namesake of the smash hit “show about nothing” and host of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” By all accounts, he killed during the sold-out show. “The performance was wonderful,” Black said, “and everybody that managed to get a ticket to that night went out of their mind. His routine revolves around the absurdities of everyday life, which everybody could relate to.” 

2016: Tony Bennett  

Photo provided by OPAS

With 20 Grammy wins and more than 50 million records sold worldwide over a six-decade career, Tony Bennett is among jazz music’s most respected and prolific singers. Known by the younger generation for his traditional collaborations with Lady Gaga, the 89-year-old Bennett entertained Aggieland with hit after hit from his expansive catalog. “At the end of the night, he set the microphone on the piano and sang ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ a cappella,” Black said. “There were 2,500 people in Rudder that night, and you could hear a pin drop.” After the show, Bennett stuck around backstage to ensure the staff and crew members who wanted a picture got one. “You just don’t have icons like that anymore.” 

OPAS brings in show-stopping talent thanks to support from passionate donors through a permanent endowment managed by the Texas A&M Foundation. If you would like to help the dedicated Aggie students and staff behind the curtain bring the best theater, music and dance productions to the Brazos Valley, contact Reagan Chessher ’96 at the bottom of this page or give directly using the button below.

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