The SPANISH LYRIC THEATRE, began as a student project, by Rene Gonzalez, a student at the University of Tampa, in 1958 when the first -very modest- Zarzuela performance was held at the Dome Theatre in Plant Hall. The following year the performance was moved to a larger venue – The Centro Asturiano in historic Ybor City. With the vision to contribute to the continuation of Tampa's richly diverse heritage, the SPANISH LYRIC THEATRE set out to unite its community in celebration of its cultural roots through musical theatre. In 1960, the company produced its first show independent of the University of Tampa, under the name of "The Spanish Little Theatre." In 1963, the Spanish Embassy in Washington D.C. recognized the Spanish Lyric Theatre as the only permanent theatrical company representing the art of the zarzuela in the United States. While teaching in the Hillsborough County school system, Rene Gonzalez continued to lead the company as Artistic Director in his spare time, and in 1964, the company added "Variedades," Musical reviews, highlighting different nationalities to its programming.
In 1965, the company elected its first Board of Directors and was incorporated as a non-profit arts group by the State of Florida and received its 501(c) 3 status. After operating for 25 years as the "Spanish Little Theatre," the group officially changed its name in 1983 to the SPANISH LYRIC THEATRE to give emphasis to its musical theatre productions.
By our 15th anniversary, in 1973, increasing professional demands and a growing audience necessitated moving SPANISH LYRIC THEATRE performances to Tampa's McKay Auditorium, and the company added Broadway musicals to its season. In 1974 the company presented "El Violinista En El Tejado" (Fiddler On the Roof) as the first time that work was ever presented in Spanish in this country. In 1981, A Royal Command Performance was given for HRH Alfonso, Duque de Cadiz, at the Tampa Theatre and to complete our goal of becoming a truly Bi-lingual and multicultural arts organization in the Bay area, SLT presented "El Rey Y Yo" (The King and I) in both Spanish and English with the same cast in 1982.
Our 25th anniversary heralded our move to the new Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center (the Straz) as one of the first local theatre's to use the Straz's Playhouse for its regular season. During that time our programming grew to include touring productions throughout the state of Florida and featured performances at the Florida State Fair.
In 2009, the Board of Directors made a conscious decision to support the Ybor City Entertainment District by moving all of SPANISH LYRIC THEATRE's main stage productions to the HCC Ybor City Performing Arts Center and also producing our Heritage Series concerts at local social clubs within the Ybor City District.
In 2014, after presiding over Spanish Lyric Theatre and SLT Productions' 55-year history, celebrated leader, Rene Gonzalez, retired as the organization's artistic director.
In 2015, Cyndee Dornblaser took over as Board President and Producing Artistic Director overseeing the day to day operations of the theatre and ensuring that its legacy continues.
In 2019, SLT celebrated its 60th Anniversary with productions of La Verbena de la Paloma, Man of La Macha and Ybor City Cinderella.
In February of 2020, after a successful performance of Brooklyn, the Musical, the world began to shut down due to a virus called COVID-19 thus cancelling the remainder of the theatre's 61st season.
During the year-long shutdown, SLT produced virtual concerts, and pop-up concerts and waited like the rest of the world for theatre to open up again. During this time, JL Rey was appointed Artistic Director.
SPANISH LYRIC THEATRE is the oldest Hispanic theatre group in the United States and the only group in Tampa dedicated exclusively to the production of musical theatre. Since its inception, Tampa's SPANISH LYRIC THEATRE has, without interruption, presented the best examples of Spanish zarzuelas, Viennese operettas and American musical theatre as well as ethnic popular, classic and folk music of Spain and Latin America.