Don HughesApril 14, 1936 ~ August 7, 2017 (age 81)
April 14, 1936 ~ August 7, 2017
Don’s journey and life path is such a fascinating one, from his early days in South Africa, as an
apprentice printers engineer, to his VERY brief stint as a pianist, and then, on to his extensive work in the
theatre in South Africa, in the US, and internationally, with some of the biggest name stars from the late 50’s to
the present day. Over the years, he has regaled all of us with his many amusing anecdotes and fantastic
adventures! In between all of this, Don was a proud father and grandfather. He always said his two greatest
“productions” were his children, Debora McManus, who is a compassionate family therapist, who helps people
every day with their emotional and mental issues. His son, Jason Hughes, is a trail-blazing entrepreneur in his
own right, and a real chip off the “old block,” as Don liked to say! Don is most proud of his children, who have
given him six beautiful grandchildren.
Don was a part of history, being instrumental in integrating the theatre in the 1960’s, and, working to
change the social fabric of South Africa. Don was truly a cultural pioneer! Over his 60 year career, he worked
with the likes of Liberace, Pat Boone, Dionne Warwick, Sammy Davis, Jr., Tessie O’Shea (who opened for the
Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show!) and so many more. He mentored many performers both in South Africa and
here in the States, and, gave one of our acrobats, Shao Bo Qin the opportunity of a lifetime to work on three
films with silver screen super stars like Brad Pitt, George Clooney and Julia Roberts on the Ocean’s Movie
Don broke down cultural barriers by bringing theatrical shows and artists from both China and Russia at
a time when these countries were off limits to most theatrical producers. A native South African, born in
Johannesburg, Don blazed a global cultural trail for over 60 years with such offerings as THE PEKING
OPERA, THE PEKING ACROBATS, THE BEIJING PUPPET THEATRE, THE RUSTAVI CHOIR AND
DANCERS, THE RED ARMY CHORUS, THE GREAT RUSSIAN CIRCUS, THE SHANGRI-LA CHINESE
ACROBATS, DANCE EXTREME - THE SWORD & DAGGER DANCERS OF TBILISI, THE MOSCOW BOYS
CHOIR and JIGU! THUNDER DRUMS OF CHINA, to name a few. With offices in Moscow, Russia and Beijing,
China, Don’s company, IAI Presentations, produce a special kind of entertainment we call “commercial
culture.” These are shows that are entertaining, fun to attend, and culturally enriching to audiences, but are
also commercially viable to produce. Knowing full well that the two don’t always go hand in hand, Don spent a
great deal of time seeking out such high caliber entertainment to bring to Western audiences.
Among the first to scale the cultural “iron-curtain” of the former Soviet Union, Don recalls the first of his
many trips to Russia. He disembarked, weary from his long flight, and was whisked off on a 9-hour train ride to
St. Petersburg (then Leningrad) by his "Gosconcert" (official Soviet cultural affairs organization) guide, to view
performances of interest to him. But, being adventurous and ready for anything is merely part of the process
for an old hand like Don, who has spent up to 14 hours at a stretch in theaters where group after group has
performed for him, including the 130 member Red Army Choir.
Also on the “Russian front,” Don scored another hit with the incredible success of THE MOSCOW
BOYS CHOIR. They toured North America for thirteen years beginning in 1993 with the Holiday themed,
Christmas Around the World Tour program. Thirty members strong and with the voices of angels, this unique
ensemble features not only the beautiful soprano sound boys choirs are famous for but also a lush, bass
baritone component that lends a distinctly Russian flavor to the choral experience. Under Don’s direction, this
Group recorded multiple CD’s, and a TV Special aired in cooperation with HDNet Television that is broadcast
regularly on that channel. By bringing these incredible talents to the wider audience they are so deserving of,
a new tradition in choral music has begun and yet another cultural trail is being blazed!
THE GREAT RUSSIAN CIRCUS is another prime example of Don’s success with Russian-themed
attractions, as this show played in theme parks across the U.S. in the summers of 2000 and 2001 to standing
ovations and standing room only in the 3,000 plus seat arenas both at Six Flags Great America in Chicago and
Six Flags Over Georgia in Atlanta. Don also ventured into producing Chinese extravaganzas for Theme Parks
with ZAJIE – AN ACROBATIC ADVENTURE in the summer of 2002 at Six Flags in Chicago. Yet another
attraction, ESPANA EXTREME, a thrill show with a distinctly Latin flavor, also played at Six Flags Great
America in Chicago in the summers of 2003 and 2004 to packed houses. These productions have broken
attendance records and set a new standard for theme park arena shows. The Atlanta Journal called Don’s
productions “Top-flight family entertainment, literally!” and “A cut above usual theme park fare!”
Don also produced mainstream theater worldwide, including the original "Phantom of the Opera" by
Ken Hill in San Francisco. Other theatrical production credits include ""A Little Night Music," “You're a Good
Man Charlie Brown," "Jacque Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris", "Strange Snow," Bravo, Piaf!,” "Noises
Off," and "Little Shop of Horrors."
At one point, faced with filling a theater left empty by the closing of "A Little Night Music," fate
intervened in striking fashion. A young Chinese acrobat came to Don’ office, offering his Taiwan Acrobats.
Skeptically, Don agreed. After locating the lost cargo of costumes and sets, the act opened, as a critic wrote,
"two days and ten minutes late." It got rave reviews, selling out for 14 weeks and a strong partnership and
friendship was forged.
The collaborative efforts of Producer Don Hughes and Artistic Director Ken Hai, famous in China as a
renowned acrobat, led to many successful international tours. Don and Ken toured the Acrobats in England,
Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, South America, South Africa,
Israel, and the United States. Don also produced three different touring productions of THE PEKING OPERA,
with Ken as Artistic Director, on many North American stages for extensive tours of the finest theatres and
performing arts venues in North America.
In 1984, Don and Ken met with the Minister of Culture of the People’s Republic of China and THE
PEKING ACROBATS® was conceived. 2016 marked 30th Anniversary Tour of THE PEKING ACROBATS,
having played to sold out houses, and incredible reviews, everywhere they have performed in the United
States under Don and Ken’s direction. THE PEKING ACROBATS performed at the MGM Grand Hotel Las
Vegas for nine months, The Desert Inn Las Vegas for six months, the Reno Hilton Hotel for eighteen months
and the Atlantic City Tropicana for three months, where they spent the summer of ’96 on the Boardwalk in
Atlantic City! They have appeared at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino, the Fremont Street Experience, and
the Bellagio Casino Hotel and Resort in Las Vegas, NV. Las Vegas has also been good to Don who enjoyed
great success with his production of the South African blockbuster "Ipi Tombi." This extravaganza of music and
dance played to sold-out houses for over 40 weeks, receiving several Strip awards and rave reviews. THE
PEKING ACROBATS have performed at Six Flags Great America, Six Flags Astroworld, Six Flags Great
Adventure, and Six Flags St. Louis Theme Parks over the years.
In September of 2003, THE PEKING ACROBATS joined the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra for their
premiere at the Bowl in Hollywood, California. They performed as part of the Fireworks Finale to the Bowl
Season and infused the capacity crowds with their unique brand of breath-taking acrobatics. These
performances were truly ground-breaking and Don was thrilled for THE PEKING ACROBATS to be honored to
perform three separate times at the Hollywood Bowl. These engagements have led to many more such
performances, blending the Acrobat’s ancient tradition with the grandeur and majesty of the Symphony
Orchestra. The many symphony concerts the Acrobats have played include the San Francisco Symphony, the
Cincinnati Pops, the Atlanta Symphony, the San Diego Symphony Orchestra, the Buffalo Philharmonic, the
Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, and the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra.
THE PEKING ACROBATS have played Broadway twice and their triumphant return to Broadway in
New York City made headlines. Their sold-out three-week engagement at the New Victory Theatre thrilled
audiences of all ages.
THE PEKING ACROBATS have been featured on numerous television shows and celebrity-studded TV
Specials including appearances on the WAYNE BRADY SHOW as well as NBC’s RING IN THE NEW YEAR
HOLIDAY SPECIAL, NICKELODEON’S UNFABULOUS and ELLEN’S REALLY BIG SHOW which aired in
November of 2007. THE PEKING ACROBATS set the world record for the Human Chair Stack on Fox’s
GUINNESS BOOK PRIMETIME show where they astounded audiences with their bravery and dexterity as
they balanced six people precariously atop six chairs 21 feet up in the air without safety lines! THE PEKING
ACROBATS performances were also featured in television special for HDNet Television and Xfinity’s 3D
Television. Another brainchild of Don’s, these shows were shot in High Definition format and in 3D format and
have been aired numerous times on HDNet’s In Focus and in Xfinity’s 3D Channel. Don and THE PEKING
ACROBATS were excited and honored to have been selected by HDNet and Xfinity to participate in such
innovative technology as high definition and 3D television.
THE PEKING ACROBATS are also making the scene on the silver screen as company members were
featured in Stephen Soderbergh’s hit film Ocean’s 11 and Ocean’s 12 playing along with Hollywood’s elite such
as Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, and George Clooney. Qin Shaobo of THE PEKING ACROBATS Company
appeared in Ocean’s 13, featuring many of the original cast members as well as Ellen Barkin and Robert
DeNiro. The ground-breaking appearances of THE PEKING ACROBATS in such contemporary films speak to
the producing prowess of Don and his ability to work in all mediums of entertainment.
The winning combination of Don and Ken broke into new cultural avenues with the success of their tour
de force production, JIGU! THUNDER DRUMS OF CHINA. This ultra-sensory, multi-media Asian drumming
spectacular features drummers, percussionists and musicians hailing from the Shanxi Province in China, this
world-renown company astounds audiences in an ultra-sensory entertainment experience. The fine art of
drumming and percussive performance is indicative of the rich and historic culture of the Shanxi Province, and
performances by JIGU! THUNDER DRUMS OF CHINA are deeply rooted in these folk origins. Not only are
audiences immersed in a wonderland of sight and sound, they are swept away by the incredible power found in
the intense drumming, percussive styling and astounding musicianship displayed by these awesome
A veteran theatre producer and impresario, Don was extremely active in all facets of the entertainment
field ranging from legitimate theater tours to casino and theme park entertainment to television and feature
films. He pursued all of his projects and treasured the opportunity of entertaining millions of audiences around
the globe with great vigor and passion, right up until his much deserved retirement in December 2016. But, he
didn’t stop there, as he was continuing to work on his most entertaining memoirs, which are still “in production”
as they say in show business!
Don’s soul-spirit emerged from his body, and soared to the heavens to be free and at peace on August
7, 2017 at his home in Pismo Beach, California, with his beloved wife Cynthia by his side. He is survived by
his wife, Cynthia Dike-Hughes, his daughter, Debora McManus and son-in-law Andrew McManus of Lafayette,
CA, their four children, Sophia, Nathaniel, Nolan and Julia; his son, Jason Hughes and daughter-in-law, Tes
DeLuna Hughes, of Minneapolis, MN, and their two children, Violet and Luca. His brother, John Hughes,
remains in England with his family and an extended family of beloved nieces and nephews; Don’s sister,
Patricia Armstrong lives in Johannesburg, South Africa. We will miss our incredible husband, father,
grandfather, brother, uncle, friend, theatre producer extraordinaire, and visionary – there will never be another
man like DON HUGHES!
There will be a Celebration of Don's life starting at 12:00 p.m. on August 15, 2017 with a video and time of sharing at the Funeral Home after which his family and friends will take him to the graveside at the Arroyo Grande Cemetery. Flowers are welcomed. Don loved blue, white and silver colors.