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Backstage drama ensues as Dallas Summer Musicals fires longtime president

Backstage drama as Dallas Summer Musicals fires longtime president

Michael Jenkins, former Dallas Summer Musicals president
Michael Jenkins with a few of his awards. Photo courtesy of Dallas Summer Musicals

UPDATE: Since this article published, Dallas Summer Musicals has issued another statement. "For some," says Ted Munselle, volunteer chairman of Dallas Summer Musicals, in the release, “this announcement is difficult to accept, but DSM’s executive committee believed that it was clear that it’s time for a change.” Munselle also cited that the committee was concerned with DSM's financial state, as the organization has suffered losses every season except one since 2008.

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Michael Jenkins, who has been president and managing director of Dallas Summer Musicals since 1994, has been suddenly terminated.

The man who many in Dallas regarded as the backbone of Dallas Summer Musicals, which is currently celebrating its 76th anniversary season, was confirmed to be out Monday morning by the DSM board's public relations specialist, Lisa LeMaster.

According to a press release from DSM, David Hyslop has been named the interim managing director. Hyslop was interim president of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra in 2011 (Jonathan Martin was given the permanent title in 2012, but Hyslop stayed on in an advisory capacity). The release calls Monday’s change the beginning of “a new generation of leadership.” Hyslop, it should be noted, is 73.

In an interview with Dallas Morning News, Jenkins, 74, claims DSM ousted him due to "age discrimination." News reporters Nancy Churnin and Michael Granberry said they had been presented with a copy of the complaint Jenkins filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

“DSM now is attempting to manufacture a pre-textual reason for firing me because I refuse to retire,” he told the News. Jenkins also cites a loan in the amount of $390,000 that he made to DSM that showed up as “deferred compensation” on DSM’s tax filing for fiscal year ending in October 2014. His contract was previously set to expire on January 2, 2017.

When the News reporters asked Jenkins to name who was most involved in getting rid of him, he said: “There are too many to name just one. It’s a palace coup.”

The DSM board hinted at reasons for Jenkins' release, saying that the Music Hall at Fair Park had been an underutilized asset to the city. Hyslop says in the release that the Music Hall has “huge unrealized potential to have a bigger regional presence for both the entertainment dollars from theater-goers as well as financial support from the community. There’s a lot of work to be done by all stakeholders of the DSM family.”

Hyslop met with DSM staff on the morning of May 2 and outlines their goals in the release. They “want to focus on a turnaround for DSM," the release says. "I saw a group of people dedicated to the principle that ‘the show must go on,’ and I am confident this will be a seamless transition for theater-goers.”

Part of Jenkins' DSM lore is that he grew up attending shows at the Music Hall, even working there as an usher in his teen years. He built a family-friendly image for Dallas Summer Musicals, refusing to bring in such edgy shows as The Book of Mormon and Spring Awakening — both of which were then booked into the competing Broadway series at the AT&T Performing Arts Center. “I’m about family entertainment," he told the News. "I’m not about having sex on stage.”

Though the 2016-17 season has not been announced, Jenkins had previously hinted that the hit musical An American in Paris, which he and Dallas Summer Musicals helped produce, would be included on the bill. Wicked is currently playing at the Music Hall through May 22.

Jenkins’ departure, the release says, “is effective immediately.”