Leeds theatre producer’s US tornado ordeal

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A Leeds-born theatre producer has told how a tornado wrecked his theatre in America – hours after a production’s first night.

David King, who was born in Alwoodley, was sleeping in a hotel across the road from the theatre in the town of Branson, Missouri, when it was hit by a tornado.

He estimates damage to the building will cost around £1m to put right and may even result in the building being pulled down.

Mr King was visiting the 1,500-capacity Branson Variety Theatre to mark the first night of a new production, The Songs of the Four Seasons and The Beach Boys.

The 55-year-old told how he was woken in the early hours by sirens and was shepherded to the basement of the Plaza Hotel.

He said: “All the lights had gone out, all the electric had gone, it was as if a bomb had gone off.

“Bells were ringing and sirens were blaring. It sounded like total chaos – like the end of the world.”

It was only once the storm passed that somebody told Mr King his theatre had been hit.

He said: “When I saw it I could hardly believe my eyes.

“The front of the building had been ripped off. It looked like a giant hand had come down and just torn it apart.

“It was hard to comprehend that I was looking at the same theatre I had been in just hours earlier enjoying a glittering first night of a new show.”

Mr King purchased the theatre, built by American pop legend Bobby Vinton, eight years ago.

Almost 40 people were injured when the tornado hit Branson but 30 people employed at Mr King’s theatre escaped unhurt.

Mr King added: “Having seen the levels of devastation, I am just so relieved that all the people who work for me are safe and sound.

“We will all bounce back from this and as they say in my industry, ‘the show must go on.’

Mr King has 20 award-winning shows which tour the world, including Spirit of the Dance, which has been running for 15 years.

He attended Roundhay School until the age of 15, when he left to set up his own women’s clothing stall at Kirkgate Market.

He later opened jewellery shops in Leeds and Bradford before his big break into showbusiness with Spirit of the Dance in 1996.

He regularly visits his mother Trudie and his sisters Wendy and Linda, who still live in Leeds.

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