The intimate 3,400-seat interior of the Star Plaza Theatre made it an ideal venue for all kinds of performances. (Photo courtesy of the Star Plaza Theatre)
“It’s bittersweet,” said Charlie Blum, president and CEO of Star Plaza Theatre and Star Productions, when asked about the closing of the Star Plaza Theatre in Merrillville, Ind. After first opening its doors in December 1979, Blum said that it would be more useful to write a short paragraph of the acts that had not come through the venue’s doors than to name who had performed at the theater.
With the Oak Ridge Boys country quartet performing at the facility since its opening, and bands like The Moody Blues and Alice Cooper playing the theatre 12 and 15 times, respectively, Blum could only say “I’ve been so blessed.”
The decision to close down the theatre did not come lightly. Surveys on the property showed that renovations would be needed underground, which Blum said posed a “strategic problem for us, because when there is something underground that has to be done, how does that affect the building above?”
The planned closing and demolition of the nearby Radisson Hotel also had the potential of affecting the theater, according to Blum. He said a rebuild of the theater was considered, but turned out to be cost prohibitive, as well as impossible in terms of the space needed between the new theater, hotel and parking.
While permanent plans for the site are still in flux, the property may become a public access park with bike paths.
General Manager of Star Plaza Theatre and Star Productions, Mark Bishop is currently in charge of seeing the theater through its last phase which includes beginning to make decisions about what to do with the resources inside the venue.
“A lot of it’s still in the preparatory stages,” said Bishop. “We’re just trying to get a feel for all of the inventory in the building, and what will actually happen to the memorabilia; what will happen to the equipment once we do close.”
Bishop did praise what he saw as a promising time for Star Production as it moves on after the theater closes. Blum agreed, saying that the company continues to “expand even more so, it’s just that we don’t have the theater attached, but the company goes on and grows even bigger.”
Theatre Engineer Steve Kokos said that he did not see any part of his role changing from now until the time the theater is scheduled to close its doors for the last time April 30. After working at the venue since 1985, helping out after performing in a community theater production of “You Can’t Take It With You,” Kokos said that he would “continue to do my job just the same as I have for the last 31 years.”
Even with the end approaching, Kokos made it clear that he only drew positive experiences from the people he worked with at Star Plaza. He called his co-workers “genuine, down to earth and like family.” The same sentiment was shared with the artists who came through the venue as well.
Kokos shared that the late B.B. King was “always so gracious to me, and always was lovely when he came in the door and gave me a hug and a handshake.” He also described the Oak Ridge Boys as “like cousins coming into town” when they showed up to play the theater.
Kokos said that after hosting all kinds of performers, from comedians and rhythm and blues to community theater and Broadway shows, he is excited to see what the last act at the Star Plaza Theatre will bring.
“I look forward to the next eight months,” Kokos said. “I’m not going to put it all down now that they said they’re going to tear the building down. We’re going to go out on a bang here, we’re going to do it 110 percent.”
Interviewed for this article: Mark Bishop, (219) 757-3550; Charlie Blum, (219) 757-3543; Steve Kokos, (219) 616-9505