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A tap-dancing Tony Curtis? Yet another My Fair Lady? The shows may be aging and tired, but TUTS remains Young at heart.

Besides the questions of taste, Young and TUTS are also facing questions of finance. They find themselves in an increasingly intense battle with the media giant Clear Channel Entertainment.

Clear Channel is what used to be known as Pace, and it puts on its own series of touring Broadway shows each year. The company has immense financial resources -- it owns 1,200 radio stations and 130 concert venues across the country -- and it's not afraid to use them.

The two groups have somewhat different aims. Clear Channel is more likely to bring the newer shows, hits like The Full Monty and The Producers, that are making their first tours after opening on Broadway. Those shows are too high-priced for TUTS.

Joe Forkan
Young has been TUTS's heart and soul for 35 years.
Deron Neblett
Young has been TUTS's heart and soul for 35 years.

"Pace will bring in The Producers; TUTS will bring in The Producers 20 years from now, when it's a comeback vehicle for Josh Hartnett," says Joe Leydon, regional theater critic for Variety.

Still, some of the shows that TUTS would have gotten when it was the only game in town now go to Clear Channel. "A lot of the newer, bigger stuff, TUTS won't get the rights to them," says Holly of the actors union.

Young remains confident the town is big enough for the two groups.

TUTS, as a nonprofit, survives mostly on ticket sales. The rule of thumb is that shows pay for themselves, and grants and donations -- and some relatively small hotel-tax money -- pay for the overhead. Last season the organization had almost $9 million in expenses and about $6 million in revenue, with groups like the Wortham Foundation and the Houston Endowment largely making up the rest.

As he is with everything else, Young is an ebullient fund-raiser. He loves to regale a gathering with a good theater anecdote, like the time he battled with Debbie Reynolds about the overtime-inducing length of her Unsinkable Molly Brown. He finally cut the orchestra off at the three-hour mark -- right in the middle of her bows. "We went backstage after, she slammed the door in my face, and we haven't spoken since," he says.

"He's a charming, personable guy, always entertaining," says Udden of the Main Street Theater. "We kind of all fall into that trap -- when you're running an organization like us or TUTS, you gotta be 'on' all the time; there's a kind of dancing-bear aspect to it all."

"He has this incredible knowledge, he's always positive and energetic," says the NAMT's Biggs. "He's hysterical, always the life of the party."

"The bad news is that it's getting harder and harder to do new work," says McCollum of Rent. "The good news is that here's a man who has been doing it for 35 years. It's never been harder to do it than it is today, and he still approaches it all with enthusiasm and energy."

At 61, Young indeed shows no signs of slowing down. His life has been TUTS, and whether you think that means he's responsible for tepid, timid musical theater in Houston or that he's brought in years and years of sparkling big-time entertainment, there's little question he's made a mark.

"We don't do shows for the critics," he says. "We have to do shows our audiences want to see…Especially when you operate at the level I do. We'll have 60,000 people see a show. So if I do some avant-garde -- you know, Sondheim is always risky, but I've done a lot of Sondheim over the years -- you've got to package that with something that has tap dancing and comedy and whatever it's going to take to keep a musical theater audience happy."

That's what he's been doing for his long career at TUTS: keeping things light and breezy, tossing an occasional bone to the critics -- and the people those critics are talking for.

And as they move into their stunning new $100 million home, there's little prospect things will change. Tony Curtis, after all, is taking tap lessons.

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