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Princeton's Mathena Center attracts top-notch entertainment

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Chuck Mathena left quite a legacy. As a tribute to him, folks of Mercer and surrounding counties will be able to enjoy such performances as "Around the World in 80 Days," "Sha Na Na" and the Broadway classic "Fiddler on the Roof."

Those are among the upcoming events for the center's fifth performance season at the 900-seat, $8 million Princeton auditorium.

The family entertainment facility was built as a tribute to Mathena. The only child of local residents Charles and Marquetta Mathena was killed in a 1992 automobile accident months before he was to graduate from college. Mathena had been a performer in his own right as member of the all-state chorus while attending Princeton Senior High School.

Marketing director Ashley Dillow said the legacy concept originated as a scholarship fund to help area college-bound students. Through community donations, the Chuck Mathena Foundation eventually morphed into the center designed to meet the need of hosting theatrical-type events in the community.

"There was a really huge gap in this area for not having a place to host performing arts," she said. "Most of the schools had very limited space. The center came about as a place for the students to showcase their own talents and for national touring productions to come to the community. People here had to travel a major distance to see things of that caliber."

At first, the programming would offer an occasional headline act. It has since grown to showcase Grammy and Tony Award winners on a regular basis.

"We determine what the community wants to see and what we need to bring them each season," said Dillow, a native of neighboring Bland County, Va. "We want to bring something for everyone.  We try to have diversity."

Many of the shows will have day-time performances for kids followed by evening shows for others in the nine-county region.

"A lot of the school-age children in the area don't have opportunities to see theatre," she said. "The center gives kids a chance to see something that they are not going to be able to see otherwise."

The Missoula Children's Theatre is a popular annual event that showcases the local talent. It typically involves more than 60 youth for a week of rehearsals and performances.

"They handle the lighting, sound … we turn the whole theatre over to them," Dillow said. "You will see 5-year-olds and 17-year-olds on stage together. It makes them so proud to have presented that production to everybody."

All tickets carry the same price whether the seating is in the balcony or on the front row. 

"The last row is only 90 feet from the stage," she said. "There are no obstructions and not a bad seat in the house.

The center employs Spring Turner, executive director, Roger Hughes, house and box office manager, and Dillow, on a full-time basis.

Contact www.chuckmathenacenter.org or call 877-425-5128 for information.