Entrepreneur and developer, David Houk, helped to successfully reopen and renovate the Playhouse, as well as create the Playhouse District itself, an area of retail and shopping that is now bustling around its namesake establishment. By the early 90’s and the Playhouse’s 75th anniversary in 1992, the theater enjoyed a thriving subscriber base of over 24,000 patrons from 327 zip codes and produced eight shows per year. In 1997, Sheldon Epps was named artistic director and became the first artistic director of color at a major Southern California theater. In a tenure that would last 20 years, the period under Epps direction would result in the theater becoming well known for its emphasis on diverse content and casting, new musicals, and growth in the areas of education and new play development.
The Carrie Hamilton Theater, named after the late daughter of Carol Burnett, opened in 2006, giving the Playhouse a second space that was quickly utilized as a place for rehearsals, readings, short experimental productions and theaters-in-residence. The 99-seat theater eventually hosted the Furious Theater Company for several seasons. Furious produced more cutting-edge work and drew a younger audience.
For the past two decades, the Pasadena Playhouse has staged several hit shows that went on to Broadway acclaim, including Baby, It’s You, Sister Act, and Purlie, and is known for producing multi-ethnic programming with a strong emphasis on diversity. Through programs that helped to bring students to the theater as well as groups who might not have the opportunity to attend a live theatrical event, community outreach and arts education are pillars of the Playhouse’s mission. The theater has also found great success through co-productions. From local theater companies like South Coast Repertory and Deaf West Theater, to New Jersey’s Crossroads Theatre Company, collaborations have brought bigger or more interesting productions to Pasadena. The holiday favorite, “Panto at the Playhouse” was first created at the Pasadena Playhouse in partnership with Lythgoe Family Productions and has gone on to be replicated at several regional theaters in Southern California.
In 2016, Sheldon Epps announced his tenure would end at the Playhouse and a new artistic director, Danny Feldman, hailing from New York’s Labyrinth Theatre Company, was named on the eve of the theater’s Centennial.
A Los Angeles native, Feldman joined the theater by way of a successful New York career on the eve of the Playhouse’s Centennial Anniversary. With a vision of returning the Playhouse to its roots as a community-centric theater company the Playhouse has undergone yet another renaissance.