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Friday List: Fox Cities PAC no stranger to big moments


The Friday List is a recurring feature in which we jog memories, spark thoughts and perhaps generate debate in one of the grandest formats devised by man … the almighty list. Are we missing something? Are we dead wrong? Offer your thoughts on the list du jour by heading to the Valley Review’s Twitter or Facebook pages.

Downtown Appleton is currently the envy of the Midwest among theater lovers as Hamilton continues its run at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center. 

It’s the Wisconsin premiere for the musical that’s been the hottest ticket in theater whether on Broadway, regionally or wherever its tours might stop. It’s a big deal not only for the PAC, but for the downtown, the city and the region. Fans have been more than willing to make the drive for an opportunity to experience the phenomenon. They’re experiencing Appleton and the Fox Cities along with the show that brought them here.

Through its 17-year history, the performing arts center has been no stranger to big deals.

The Hamilton run marks the latest moment, but far from the first in which our downtown centerpiece has put the Fox Valley in the spotlight. The stage has hosted legends, legendary shows and world leaders. 

 Hey, it’s Friday — let’s look at some of those other moments … in list format.

Tony Bennett performed at the PAC’s opening night gala on Nov. 25, 2002. He was the first in a line of musicians from hit-makers to all-out legends that came through Downtown Appleton including B.B. King, Willie Nelson, Diana Ross, Liza Minnelli, the Moody Blues, Yanni and of course, Weird Al Yankovic.

Mamma Mia! was the first Broadway production staged at the performing arts center with a run from Jan. 21-Feb. 2, 2003. The Fox Valley fell in love with its sparkling, new  theater — and developed quite an affection for the ABBA driven production. Mamma Mia! has had eight runs at the PAC with the latest in 2017.

That same year, the center hosted a key figure 20th century world history. Former Soviet President and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Mikhail Gorbachev spoke at the PAC on Oct. 1, 2003 to open the three-day International Community Partnerships Conference. Gorbachev spoke on the role of the partnerships in securing Cold War era weapons stockpiles.

Less than a half year after Gorbachev took the stage, the PAC hosted the U.S. president. On March 30, 2004, President George W. Bush delivered a campaign speech at the PAC.

The Fox Cities PAC has hosted a number of the biggest names in comedy. That list includes the late George Carlin who arrived in Appleton for a performance on Sept. 17, 2005.

Hamilton is now the biggest thing in theater. In 2007, it was Disney’s The Lion King and the PAC hosted the Wisconsin premiere. It was a tourism boon, with the PAC estimating more than 13,000 ticket buyers traveled more than 60 miles to experience the production. It inspired the correlating Lions of the Valley public art project. A number of those painted lions and cubs are still visible around the city.

On March 28, 2009, more than 4 million people across the country had a taste of the Fox Cities and its talent as Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion” broadcast live from the PAC.

The first Wisconsin stop of The Book of Mormon in Sept. 2014 was a record breaker for the center, grossing $1.3 million during its weeklong, eight-show run.

On March 29, 2016, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders drew a crowd that filled the PAC and spilled into the street. About 5,000 people arrived for the campaign visit. The eventual president, Donald Trump, likes to boast about his crowds, but it’s safe to say his audience was a bit thinner  across the street during his campaign stop at the Paper Valley Hotel the next day. 

Hamilton opened Tuesday and will continue through Oct. 20. The tour will remain in Wisconsin with engagements in Milwaukee and Madison — but as for the Wisconsin premiere?

Oh yeah. We’re at the top of the list.