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Wharton Center Milestones

  • 1958: Discussions begin for the creation of a performing arts center at MSU
  • 1971: MSU trustees authorize planning for a performing arts center to begin
  • 1974: Site selected
  • April 19, 1975: Fundraising kickoff concert featuring Tony Bennett and Lena Horne
  • July 19, 1979: Groundbreaking ceremony
  • April 1982: The facility is officially named the Clifton and Dolores Wharton Center for Performing Arts
  • July 19, 1982: Hard-hat preview concert featuring The Young Americans
  • Sept. 25, 1982: Opening night with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and soprano Birgit Nilsson
  • Sept. 26, 1982: Official dedication ceremony
  • Oct. 12-13: Barnum becomes the first Broadway tour to appear at Wharton Center
  • Spring 1984: Wharton’s toll-free number, 1-800-WHARTON, was installed
  • March 1985: Wharton Center gift shop opens
  • October 1986: Dreamgirls becomes the first Broadway show to play a full week at Wharton Center
  • November 1986: ACT ONE Family Series begins
  • May 1987: New ticketing system purchased for the box office
  • Oct. 20-25, 1987: Cats comes to Wharton Center for the first of many visits
  • Dec. 31, 1987: Diamonds & Pearls, a New Year’s Eve gala featuring Pearl Bailey, honors 75 years of performing arts at MSU
  • April 11-16, 1989: First U.S. University to host Les Miserables
  • Oct. 19, 1992: Hosted 1992’s third presidential debate, featuring President George W. Bush, Gov. Bill Clinton and businessman H. Ross Perot
  • Fall 1993: Wharton Partners program established, a new initiative in Wharton Center’s arts education outreach. The program paired university-level student artists with school classrooms.
  • 1995: Wharton Center website debuts
  • April 13–June 1, 1996: Second U.S. university to host The Phantom of the Opera. During its 7½-week run, ticket sales were higher than any other Broadway theater in the country. More than 138,000 people saw the 60 performances. Ticket revenue exceeded $7.5 million
  • Fall 1996: The Young Playwrights Festival debuts. There are 30 submissions.
  • September 1997: The parking ramp gains 400 new spots and an additional entrance on Shaw Lane
  • September 1997: Shirley Pasant’s $1 million gift renames the Festival Stage as the Shirley K. and Athanase J. Pasant Theatre
  • October 1997: The first donor appreciation concert is presented, featuring soprano and comedienne B.J. Ward
  • April 28–May 24, 1998: Miss Saigon booked for an extended run, celebrating Wharton Center’s 15th anniversary
  • April 2000: Wharton Center introduces online ticketing
  • Oct. 27, 2000: First Wharton Center world premiere jazz commission, Urban Griot by Dr. Billy Taylor
  • Fall 2001: World View Lecture Series begins, featuring speakers Richard Holbrook, Molly Ivins and Spike Lee
  • April 26, 2002: New York composer Jonathan Dawe debuts his world premiere commission, Wharton Center Concerto, celebrating the center’s 20th anniversary
  • 2006: Seats 4 Kids scholarship ticket fund distributes more than 400 tickets through local community service agencies enabling economically disadvantaged children to attend performances
  • July 11-22 2007: Wicked debuts at Wharton Center, selling out its two-week run
  • April, 2008: MSU Federal Credit Union endows Institute for Arts & Creativity at Wharton Center
  • March 17–April 19, 2009: The Lion King comes to Wharton Center, necessitating the removal of seats to create aisles for the animals to enter for the opening number
  • May-October, 2009: Wharton Center completes facelift and 24,000 square foot expansion, adding space backstage for major Broadway productions and room for larger dance and classical companies, as well as increased patron amenities
  • Oct. 10, 2013: [email protected] young professionals outreach program debuts with an event for Flashdance
  • 2014: Wharton Center Institute for Arts & Creativity launches a collaboration with MSU’s College of Arts and Letters’ Department of Theatre: ĭmáGen, in which high school and college actors perform alongside professionals to workshop a Broadway-bound musical
  • October, 2016: Wharton hosts its first Sensory-Friendly Performance at the ĭmáGen performance of Temple
  • 2017-2018 Season: Wharton Center launches a new brand with ART at the Center and a goal to inspire the minds and move the souls of patrons, students, staff, volunteers and the community
  • 2019: The July 2019 issue of Venues Today ranks Michigan State University’s Wharton Center for Performing Arts at number ten internationally for venues with a capacity of 2,001 to 5,000 seats. The ranking is based on mid-year gross figures from November 2018 through May 2019. 
  • 2019: Pollstar magazine’s mid-year issue ranks Wharton Center at #51 in the top 200 theatre venues in the world, regardless of size. This ranking is based on ticket sales.