Craig: The Reinhart legacy at Ross Music Theatre
Merrillville’s Ross Summer Music Theatre will celebrate its 50th season in summer with its presentation of the Broadway musical “Les Miserables” from July 26-Aug. 4.
Jerry Reinhart was a 25-year-old U.S. Air Force veteran and Indiana University graduate in 1954 when he was hired as choral director at Merrillville High School.
Ten years later, with help from the Optimist Club of Merrillville, he founded a summer theater for young artists. This company produced shows in the school’s gym.
Reinhart pushed hard for a better auditorium facility for the school and his budding summer theater programs.
In 1972 the auditorium, now named after him, opened with a production of “Kiss Me, Kate.”
The success of the Ross Summer Music Theatre productions and seeing their own children on stage, led Jerry’s wife, Margilee, to found the Ross Summer Youth Theatre in the 1980s.
After the 25th season’s production of “Hello, Dolly!” both theater programs took a hiatus while the auditorium was renovated.
Also, Jerry Reinhart had heart bypass surgery but came back in 1994 with a production of “Oliver!”
Around the same time, the Reinharts’ son Michael and his wife, Melinda, founded M&M Productions.
They have partnered with Ross Music Theatre for successful productions of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Scrooge,” “Cotton Patch Gospel” and “The Music Man.”
The merger has enabled the groups to do more shows and is an independent, nonprofit, nonsubsidized venture supported solely by ticket sales.
The theater group’s goal is to present professional quality productions at a community theater price.
Although he has retired from the classroom, Jerry Reinhart is still auditorium director and has directed and produced more than 100 shows at the high school and community theater level.
Now in his 80s he has spent more than half his life producing musicals in Merrillville.
He has provided musical leadership to thousands of people and entertainment to more than 200,000 people in Northwest Indiana.
Reinhart certainly has been one of the most influential people in theater in the region’s history.
The production of “Les Miserables” features a cast and crew of more than 90 people and a 25-piece orchestra.
The run of “Les Miserables” will feature a special alumni night on Aug. 2.
Alumni of Ross Music Theatre will be recognized at the end of the performance, and there will be a reception with food, videos from old shows and more.
Performances of “Les Miserable” will be at Merrillville High School’s the Reinhart Auditorium, 276 E. 68th Place, Merrillville.
Call (219) 742-6478 or go to m-mproductions.com to purchase advanced tickets.
Bob Craig is a local freelance writer.