Madison’s Overture Center announced Monday that it will cut ties with Tom Wopat, the former TV star for whom Overture’s regional Tommy Awards program for youth talent was named, after the Lodi native was charged with indecently grabbing or touching actresses in Massachusetts.
Wopat, 66, who achieved fame in the 1980s action/comedy series “The Dukes of Hazzard” and went on to a Broadway career, faces charges that he groped an adult female cast member and that he was indecent toward a 16-year-old girl while rehearsing for the musical “42nd Street” at a theater near Boston, the Boston Globe reported late last month.
In the latter charge, Wopat is accused of poking the girl in the stomach, hitting her buttocks with a script and intruding in a female dressing room, the Globe reported.
“Given the recent news surrounding Mr. Wopat, Overture Center for the Arts has severed all ties with him and will be moving forward with discussions for the high school musical awards program’s name,” said a statement from Overture Center.
However, the program will continue to be known as the Tommy Awards, at least into mid-2018, Overture officials said.
Live shows headlined by Wopat scheduled for this fall and winter at the Janesville Performing Arts Center and Stoughton Opera House were recently canceled.
Overture’s decision “is a moral dilemma for me because I am a strong believer in (presumed innocence) — and we should be in this day and age,” said Tim Sauers, vice president of programming and community engagement, who created the Tommy Awards nine years ago to encourage and honor excellence in high school musical theater.
“But the allegations against (Wopat) have just been building,” Sauers said. “Even if he comes off innocent, it’s tarnished our program.”
“We feel this is an unfortunate decision,” Wopat’s publicist Dan Fortune said. “Tom would love to do an interview when these legal issues are settled.”
Sauers said news of the allegations against Wopat nearly brought him to tears. “I love this program and I love the kids, and I love everybody who’s involved with this.”
At the launch of the Tommy Awards, Wopat agreed to let Overture use his name, but he has not participated in or supported the program financially, according to the performing arts center.
Advocacy for theater
The Tommy Awards program sends skilled reviewers to see high school productions and rate them. The top shows and performers are honored at an annual awards gala in the center’s Overture Hall.
In the 2016-17 season, the judges viewed 87 productions at 82 Wisconsin schools in 23 counties, according to Overture. More than 400 students performed in the annual Tommy Awards ceremony.
The wealth of regional talent discovered through the program led to the creation of the Tommy Ensemble, a performance group of top high school talent.
The next Tommy Awards will be on June 10, 2018, and the name will remain until then, Sauers said.
Program partners, alumni, schools and others will be consulted as the program is renamed, he said. “We want to do this in a very thoughtful, inclusive way, and we see that rolling out after the end of our fiscal year” on June 30, he said.
With news of the first allegations, Overture removed Wopat’s signature from electronic media and contacted him by email about the change, Sauers said.