The final curtain seems to have fallen on Gahanna Community Theatre as the community has known it the past 36 years, having produced scores of musicals, murder mysteries and three-act plays since its inception.

Founder and producer Char McCasland estimates 2,000 people have been involved in the theater program since the beginning -- from the actors and actresses to crew members who built signs and scenery and others who contributed in some way.

As things stand, McCasland said, February's production of "Beauty and the Beast" was the last production. The organizers are ready to move on to other things, she said.

"We left it in God's hands," she said. "For us, we felt all along this was his idea. We just feel, for us right now, it was the last. The curtain came down on our last production as we know it.

"If nothing comes up, our intention is to establish a scholarship fund with the money we have left."

McCasland said the community theater started after she asked her husband for a loan of $2,000, and he agreed.

"Within two shows, I had him paid back in full," she said. "It's a God thing."

When the theater started, she said, it was a requirement that participants live, work or attend a church in Gahanna.

"As people got to know us, people asked and we opened up the auditions to whomever," McCasland said. "Some of the biggest things we had were murder mysteries at the old fire station where Creekside is.

"The city (officials), bless their hearts, opened up bay doors. People would come and we set up tables and chairs. Actors and actresses went all down along Creekside before it was built up. It was so much fun. People loved it. We sold out every show."

She said the theater also once performed three-act plays at what is now CenterPoint Church, 620 McCutcheon Road.

McCasland said the first musical the group produced at Gahanna Lincoln High School was "Annie Get your Gun" in 1984.

"My favorite was the last one we did, 'Beauty and the Beast,' " she said. "There have some been some other really cool ones along the way, like the first time we did 'The Sound of Music' (1990) and 'Annie' (2001 and 2013) -- the ones with the kids."

She said the group not only produced shows, but marriages also resulted.

"Several couples met on the GCT stage, and we had their kids perform on our stage," McCasland said.

Family affair

Ian Short, who has directed Gahanna Community Theatre the past 15 years, said local community theater groups didn't exist when McCasland started Gahanna's 36 years ago.

"There was a whole area of Columbus that didn't have theater," he said. "Now there's a lot going on. There are lots of opportunities to do theater. Every theater has a different niche. We had huge choruses. That was my challenge, directing 60 to 80 people. We got a wonderful, full sound you can't get with 16."

Short, whom McCasland calls "a million-dollar director," graduated from Gahanna Lincoln High School in 1989 and Otterbein College in 1993.

"My first show I did was when I was 15, I was a dancer in 'Oklahoma' (in 1987)," Short said. "I took over as director in 2005. I had been in the show the year before."

He said McCasland always was a wonderful producer who was great at getting people from the community involved.

Short said 29-year music director Chuck Miller also put an amazing orchestra together every year.

"Professional theater communities were envious of our orchestra," he said.

Short said the theater group has been a family.

Of the many musicals, he said, he especially enjoyed "The Music Man" in 2005.

"There were a lot of families in the show," Short said. "We had a lot of family units -- more than any show that I remember."

He said he also enjoyed directing "The Sound of Music" in 2010, with seven children of various ages.

"A lot of them continued to do Gahanna Community Theatre," he said, adding he would like to see the group continue.

"We'll see what happens," he said.

Labor of love

Miller said the theater has been a labor of love, as he recalled playing trumpet in the orchestra pit in 1991.

Four years later in 1995, the theater was doing the show "Oliver!" Former orchestra director Jeff Shellhammer wanted to perform as Fagin in the show, so he asked Miller if he would direct the orchestra.

"I did it that year," Miller said. "After he did Fagin, he said, 'Why don't you keep doing orchestra?' and he bowed out."

Miller, who retired from teaching in 2002 (he taught in Gahanna middle schools and assisted the band), took over all the music for the shows in 2003.

"I really enjoyed being a part of putting the whole thing together, putting the orchestra together and the leads," he said. "It was fun to see it take shape from January through February. It was quite a good run.

"Because we had the same team together, people knew what to expect of us. It was like a family," he said.

Miller said people came from as far as West Jefferson just to be in the choir.

"That was part of the dedication of people, driving 45 minutes Monday through Thursday. It's amazing people came from all over the place."

His favorite show was "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" in 2017.

"It was amazing how things came together," Miller said. "We needed Joseph's brothers and wives. The high school kids contributed a lot. We had people from Pickerington Community Theatre. That was really a special show."

McCasland said she's thankful for the community's support throughout the years.

"I have gratitude for all of their support of our endeavors and all they've given to us as performers and lovers of the theater," McCasland said. "I think they need to know we're not crying because it's over. We're smiling because it happened."

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekMarla