Miller Outdoor Theatre’s Past & Present

The curtain will raise again at Miller Outdoor Theatre. The 2019 season has been announced, opening on March 15th with “One Night of Queen”. The schedule is full of diverse and professional entertainment made up of musicals, concerts, plays, film screenings, spoken word, dance and shows for children and families. Each and every performance at Miller is free to the public, a tradition that dates back to its inception.

The original Miller Outdoor Theatre. Image co Houston Chronicle

Jesse Wright Miller

When cotton broker and mining engineer Jesse Wright Miller passed away in 1919, he left land to the City of Houston for municipal purposes. The property was sold by the City and the funds were allocated to build a Miller memorial theatre, a ‘permanent bandstand’ in Hermann Park. In May of 1923, the Miller Outdoor Theatre opened with its first performance “Springtime of Our Nation”, under the direction of the Houston Recreation and Community Service Department (now known as the Parks and Recreations Department). Throughout the 1920s, Miller provided a stage not just for the arts, but for sports. The theatre was a gathering place for Houstonians to listen to radio broadcasts of major sporting events, such as the World Series and the World Heavyweight Boxing Championship.

Symphony Nights & the Hill

The next few decades ushered in big changes for the outdoor venue. In 1938, the Houston Recreation Department developed weekly programming led by civic and community groups. The first outdoor summer symphony concert took place in August of 1941, drawing in 15,000 visitors (despite the 100º temperature) and giving birth to Summer Symphony Nights. After World War II, the hill at Miller was created using the dirt excavated from widening Fannin Street, one of numerous developments undertaken by the city to keep up with Houston’s accelerated growth.

The Miller Outdoor Theatre, 1962. Image co Houston Chronicle.

Miller Today

Mecom-Rockwell Colonnad Fountain.
Image co getty images

By the 1960s, Houstonians had outgrown the ‘permanent bandstand’. The original Miller Outdoor Theatre was a classic amphitheater featuring a narrow stage surrounded by twenty limestone columns and two live oak trees. When work on a new, more modern venue began, the limestone columns were relocated to the Mecom-Rockwell Colonnad Fountain (on the promenade between Fannin and San Jacinto at Hermann Drive), where they still remain.

Completed in 1968 and designed by Eugene Werlin and Associates, the new Miller Outdoor Theatre accommodated more elaborate productions, featured additional audience seating, concession stands, green room, four dressing rooms and an orchestra pit. The theatre has continued to evolve alongside Houston’s physical, cultural and population growth. Miller has undergone various renovation and expansion projects since, but has maintained the integrity of the ’68 theatre.

Miller under construction, 1968. Image co Houston Chronicle

Theatre Under The Stars

On the first of September in 1968, a Summer Symphony was the new Miller Outdoor Theatre’s opening performance with 15,000 people in attendance. Later that month, Miller featured a musical, Bells are Ringing, produced by Frank M. Young, a local student. The performance drew thousands and received rave reviews, echoing similar results to the first Summer Symphony Night in 1941. Soon after, Young formed the musical theatre group Theatre Under The Stars, a nod to the venue where the group performed.

Over the years, TUTS transitioned from free shows through the summer at Miller to year round paid performances at Downtown’s Hobby Center. As TUTS’ approaches its 50th anniversary season this year, the non-profit continues to produce admission-free musicals at Miller Outdoor Theatre. This summer, TUTS will bring Seussical the Musical to Miller.

Miller, today. Image co H.Hardaway/SternBucek

2019 Season

Every season, Miller Outdoor Theatre works tirelessly to provide Houston with eight-months of exceptional, professional caliber and culturally diverse entertainment with no admission fees. Situated on over 7 acres in Hermann Park, Miller is the largest “always free” program of its kind in the United States.

Along with Seussical, TUTS will present The Addams Family School Edition. The musicals Anything Goes and Junie B’s Essential Survival Guide to School will also be performed at Miller this season. In May, the Houston Grand Opera brings to the stage The Elixir of Love, a new twist on the comic opera, and La boheme, a beloved Puccini classic.

Image co Boyhood, IFC films

ExxonMobil Summer Symphony Nights returns with performances throughout the season, including the ‘Star Spangled Salute’ on the Fourth of July. The orchestras of Aperio, Music of Americas and the AFA, Houston’s largest non-profit provider of music education programs for young people, are also scheduled. Miller Outdoor Theatre will host Shakespeare’s Julius Cesaer and As You Like It, as part of the Houston Shakespeare Festival and produced by the University of Houston.

All the Extras

The evening events are ‘ticketed’ for assigned seating in the covered area. This tickets may be picked up on the day of the performance. Seating on the hill is always open and does not require tickets. The hillside does have one unspoken rule: lawn chairs on the left side, picnic blankets on the right. For additional information about tickets, parking, rules and the entire schedule, visit Miller Outdoor Theatre.

Keep an eye out for Circa Real Estate agents, we love a great show!

Social Media & Featured images co Miller Outdoor Theatre