Grammy award-winning musician saves State Theatre of Eustis with $20,000 donation

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EUSTIS, Fla. – After weeks of fundraising, the State Theatre of Eustis is no longer at risk of closing its doors at the end of the year, thanks to a generous donation.

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Three weeks ago, News 6 highlighted the efforts underway to save the 98-year-old theatre, which was preparing to put on its production of “A Christmas Carol.”

“The biggest problem we’re facing right now is because of COVID,” theatre board president Becky Jaggers told News 6. “We had to be at 76% to break even on our shows. We can’t get to 76% if we only have 55 seats available.”

Among those who watched the story was Grammy award-winning pianist and conductor Peter Nero.

The 86-year-old acclaimed musician has called The Villages home for several years and has never set foot inside the State Theatre of Eustis. He spent a career performing at some of the biggest venues and now found himself compelled to act with an opportunity to save the theatre by donating the $20,000 it needed to survive.

“I’ve never done this before,” he told News 6. “It means a lot to me. A city or area without the arts is a person without a soul. This helps keep the operation going.”

Nero gained national attention for his piano-playing skill at the age of 17 and subsequently appeared nearly a dozen times on The Ed Sullivan Show. He won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist in 1961.

To celebrate the occasion, Jaggers and operations manager Sue Wharff surprised Mr. Nero at his house with an oversized check for him to keep.

“He donated $20,000 to keep our theatre afloat,” Jaggers said. “It was very close [to closing]. We would have had to shut our doors this Sunday after our young people performed if it had not been for Mr. Nero and our GoFundMe account which brought us out of the deep waters.”

In total, the theatre was able to raise more than $30,000. You can still donate online by clicking here

“The show will go on as long as we’re able to keep putting it out there,” Jaggers said. “It enables us to keep our doors open for a while longer until we get back on our feet.”

About the Author:

It has been an absolute pleasure for Clay LePard living and working in Orlando since he joined News 6 in July 2017. Previously, Clay worked at WNEP TV in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where he brought viewers along to witness everything from unprecedented access to the Tobyhanna Army Depot to an interview with convicted double-murderer Hugo Selenski.