Built on an alfalfa field in 1954 by original founder Ben Segal, the original Oakdale was part of the "theatre-in-the-round" craze that saw many circular stages open in various parts of the Northeast. A family owned business for decades, it began primarily as a summer stock venue, hosting many of the musicals of the day – “Kiss Me Kate”, “South Pacific”, “Oklahoma” to mention a few – with many of Broadway’s brightest stars like John Raitt, Danny Kaye, James Garner and Ethel Merman.
In the 60's, Oakdale evolved into a summer concert venue where the likes of Harry Belafonte, Paul Anka, Steve & Eydie, Tom Jones, and more played to the open air crowds every summer – sometimes for 2 weeks at a time! Musical tastes changed in the late 60's and Oakdale rocked and rolled with Cream, The Who, The Doors and even Led Zeppelin, all playing live on the spinning stage.
The 60's and early 70's was the heyday for Oakdale. The wood dome which now acts as the lobby was erected in 1972 and the seating capacity was increased from 1700 to 3200. The biggest entertainers of the day made Oakdale a must play on their summer rosters. Keep in mind: this was prior to the arenas that opened in Hartford and New Haven, and decades before casinos! Staples every summer were Englebert Humperdinck, Liberace, The Carpenters, Dolly Parton and comedians like Don Rickles and Rich Little.
In the 80’s and 90's, the "theatre in the round" was facing stiff competition in the entertainment industry. Many of the current performers were not particularly fond of a spinning stage, and it was getting more and more difficult to bring Connecticut audiences their favorite artists. Stars were demanding paydays that only larger venues could afford. Oakdale marched on and began presenting more country artists, a genre that, at the time, was not arena-friendly. Oakdale was the place where the Nutmeg State got its first taste of an emerging force in music as it became home to The Judds, Reba McEntire, Clint Black, Randy Travis, and Alan Jackson.
In 1996, the current Oakdale Theatre was built, transforming the old in-the-round space into the gracious lobby and adding a 4600-seat theatre with a proscenium stage that would now rival any entertainment center in the Northeast. Country duo Brooks & Dunn opened the then-new theatre on July 7, 1996.
With the new shape came the big stars: Sting, Tina Turner, Rod Stewart, Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Dave Matthews, Robin Williams, Coldplay, Josh Groban, Jerry Seinfeld - all of whom played the magnificent new theatre to sold-out crowds. The new theatre also afforded Oakdale to present Broadway-sized shows as the new stage was able to hold the large sets. “Riverdance”, “42nd St”, “Grease”, “The Producers”, “Seussical”, “Movin’ Out” and more were all part of the Broadway Series that ran for 10 years.
Family programming has always been a large part of Oakdale's history. The Wednesday matinee children’s shows introduced many of Connecticut’s youngest residents to their first theatrical production. Since then, Barney, The Wiggles, Dora the Explorer, The Backyardigans and Rugrats all have enjoyed wild success with kids and families from all over the state.
Legendary CT promoter Jim Koplik joined the Oakdale family in 1998, as we became part of Live Nation, the largest entertainment company in the world. In recent years, Maroon 5 and John Mayer have started their careers here, and Britney Spears headlined on her first tour in 1999. Drake, the Jonas Brothers, Diana Krall, Kathy Griffin, Avenged Sevenfold, and Keith Urban have all played to sold-out crowds in the past few years.
From Danny Kaye to Don Rickles, Barney to Britney, and The Doors to Drake, the old alfalfa field that turned into one of the region’s premier concert venues has seen its share of stars. The next time history is made at Oakdale, will you be there?