Music man

Tim McDonald’s remarkable career

Tim McDonald was back in town last week, from April 21-24, doing what he loves to do: holding workshops for musical-theater students, this time at Chico State. He was voluntarily “working for his supper,” as he put it Friday evening, April 23, when he was one of the nine people honored at the university’s 2010 Distinguished Alumni Recognition Dinner in the Bell Memorial Union.

When McDonald last lived in Chico, in the early 1990s, the word often used to describe him was “multitalented.” As executive director of Chico City Light Opera for six years, he was an administrator, a theater director (of more than 100 productions), a performer (he sang, played piano, and did a little dancing), and a teacher and coach of hundreds of children who participated in the company’s youth theater.

He learned his craft “the old-fashioned way, by doing it,” he now says, and if that meant building sets and fixing the plumbing as well as singing and acting, so be it. I wrote several stories about CCLO, and I remember him then as a golden-haired prodigy with an irrepressible smile, a man so in love with musical theater that he virtually glowed with enthusiasm.

In 1997, McDonald was living in New York City and was recruited by Music Theatre International to create the first educational division in a major musical-theater licensing firm. He worked there 10 years, developing—and in some cases writing—more than 30 titles, working side-by-side with such greats as Arthur Laurents and Stephen Sondheim to create age-appropriate versions of such classics as Les Misérables, Annie and Into the Woods.

By the time he left MTI in 2007, the company was celebrating that more than 2 million children had been part of an MTI Education theater project.

The premiere production of Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka, which he co-wrote and for which he adapted the score, set attendance records at the Kennedy Center and went on a three-year national tour, including a command performance before President and Mrs. Obama at the White House.

Now, as founder and owner of iTheatrics (, Tim continues to create new musicals for children. He also helms a biannual national junior theater festival in Atlanta and has created an NYC-based Junior Theater Academy. He has had, in short, a remarkable career.

He used his acknowledgement speech Friday to talk about the importance of Chico in his growth as an artist and businessman. He honored, for example, Gwen Curatilo, the dynamic former head of the university’s Opera Workshop program, as “the reason I’m on this stage right now.” And he mentioned retired theater professor Randy Wonzong, “still the favorite director I’ve ever worked with in Chico.”

He cited Pat Kopp, former head of University Public Events, and Bob Linscheid, who taught him that “the arts are commerce.” He singled out two local downtown businesspeople, Bob Malowney, of Bird in Hand, and Nancy Lindahl, of Zucchini & Vine, as folks who were always willing to lend support to CCLO when it was needed.

Ultimately, he said, Chico City Light Opera fell apart, but that in turn enabled him to move on. “Chico allowed me to fail,” he said. “If you can succeed and fail in Chico, then you can succeed anywhere.”