Saturday, July 23, 2011

Summer Stock Memories...And The Stars That Made It Happen!


Joe D. Ross: We're trying to tell a story with music, and song, and dance. Well, not just with words. For instance, if the boy tells the girl that he loves her, he just doesn't say it, he sings it.
Jane Falbury: Why doesn't he just say it?
Joe D. Ross: Why? Oh, I don't know, but it's kind of nice.
-Gene Kelly and Judy Garland in SUMMER STOCK

Happy Saturday!
When most people think of summer, they think of beaches, schools being out, vacations,and nowadays, stay-cations. But for many in my profession, it's SUMMER STOCK! Of course, there is the movie with Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, and Gloria deHaven (whose birthday is today!)
At one time, many of the greatest stars in show business would consider doing a summer stock show or season to hone their craft or in some cases, a "working vacation".
But make no bones about it, it is tough work!
Sometimes, IF YOU'RE LUCKY, you have two weeks to learn a show!
In some instances you have 5 to 7 days, and in other instances, you are rehearsing one show during the day and performing other shows at night!

My first stock experience was at The Heritage Playhouse in Hopkinton, Rhode Island. It was 1982, I was 21. I made $35.00 a week for five weeks! I did ANNE OF THE THOUSAND DAYS, TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA, OUR TOWN, and THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK! I have both good and memories of those experiences. You work as a team. Just as in high school, cliques form, romances, triumphs, and failures. But then again, that's true of all of life. I posted on FACEBOOK this morning, "Question of the day: Who is the greatest STAR you've ever seen in a summer stock production? Name the star,show, theatre and any memories you have of that experience."
Here are the results of my little poll.
Enjoy!!
Let me take you back to a simpler time when STARS were STARS!
Here is my tribute to those stars who went out to perform for their fans around the country. (Thank you all for your comments...I have left out your names to protect the innocent..and already bruised!)

Rudy Vallee in HOW TO SUCCEED in 1962 at the Colonie Summer Theatre near Albany. No idea who played Finch. Rosemary was played by Wisa Dorso.

Betty Grable as Adelaide in GUYS AND DOLLS, late 1960s, Westbury Music Fair.I learned reecently that she came within a whisker of playing the role in the 1955 film. She was already showing major smoking-related vocal damage, but was adorable, and still so pretty. I have a feeling that Nathan D might have been played by the comic Jan Murray.


Bucks County Playhouse Circa 1990. Gene Rayburn in La Cage Aux Follies. Memorable is one word I could use to describe it. Probably the only word.

Do any of you remember the old Court Square Theater in Springfield, MA?

It used to be a tryout for some Broadway shows. I think the last was "The Bad Seed". Theater was destroyed years ago as part of some urban renewal project. It used to a stomping ground for touring operetta companies as well as vaudeville."

This artist's rendering of the Court Square Theatre Building appeared in the Summer, 1900, issue of The American Missionary quarterly, accompanying an announcement that the 54th Annual Meeting of the American Missionary Association would be taking place at the theater in the fall. "A great gathering...anticipated," it is noted in the article that the theater, which seated about 1800, boasts "the largest auditorium in the city."

The best stock performance was Jonathan Harris (aka Dr. Smith in Lost in Space) as The Devil in Damn Yankess in Atlanta in '79. He was wonderful!

Also at Westbury, Lana Turner in "40 Carats", exquisitely costumed by Noel Taylor. Mr. Steve worked at one of the West's fabled summer theatres, the Elitch Gardens in Denver.
Perhaps we can persuade him to share his juicy memories!
Elitch Theatre is an 1891 Shingle Style theatre located at the original Elitch Gardens site in northwest Denver, Colorado. It was home to the United States' first and oldest summer-stock theater from 1897 until 1987.
The first films in the West were shown here in 1896, on an Edison Viascope. Designed by John Elitch before he died in early 1891 at the age of 41. Mary Hauck Long, his wife, dedicates the theatre to his memory. She manages the theatre until 1916 when she sells the park to John Mulvilhill. Mulvilhill dies in 1930 leaving his son-in-law Arnold Gurtler and his family to manage the Gardens until 1996. In 1994, the Gardens closed and moved to lower downtown Denver. The old Gardens land is sold to developers. A stipulation was made that the theatre and carousal would never be demolished. In 2006, the building received a foundation, roof, fire and sprinklers. The Historic Elitch Theatre Foundation is currently raising funds to restore and make the theatre operational again.

And then there was Edie Adams in HELLO DOLLY at the Bucks County Playhouse around 1989. A pathetic production. The photos out front showed Edie in the traditional red Dolly dress but I guess the back wasn't able to zip because when she appeared at the Harmonia Gardens she was wearing a big red caftan!

Found this quote on line about that production, "Hello, Dolly!, which runs through Aug. 11, is among a series of "star" productions that producer Ralph A. Miller has booked into the New Hope theater. The cynical premise behind this policy appears to be that audiences will buy the tackiest, most underrehearsed travesty if there's a recognizable name in the cast, and it seems to be working: Attendance is up sharply from last year, when the playhouse produced non-Equity, no-star shows. But if this Dolly! represents a new, improved product, one can only tremble at the thought of what the old one must have been."

It could not have been as bad as Linda Dano in MAME! The worst thing I EVER saw in the theatre!


DODIE GOODMAN (Dody and I were very good friends and I got the opportunity to share a stage with her many times)
One woman show which opened Apple Hill Playhouse in Pittsburgh

Kaye Ballard & Sandy Dennis in ODD COUPLE Buck's County

....I luvd Edie Adams

Ann Miller as Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes, late 1970s, tappin' away quite brilliantly, in costumes colored like the refracted light from a prism, with LOTS of rhinestones.

My uncle's friend produced Lana Turner in Murder Among Friends Nixon Theatre Pittsburgh, PA..Lana gave curtain speech about Jesus with Bible in hand

Liza Minnilli in The Fantasticks at the Westport Country Playhouse. As I recall, it was before she had made her mark on Broadway. She was wonderful. Do not remember the rest of the cast.

Christopher Reeve in 'Death Takes a Holiday' at the Williamstown Theatre Festival is a close second.



Review/Theater:
Reeve Resurrects Death as a Charming Stranger



By MEL GUSSOW; SPECIAL TO THE NEW YORK TIMES
Published: August 13, 1990, Monday

As the title character in ''Death Takes a Holiday,'' Christopher Reeve has another role commensurate with his larger-than-life presence. Replacing his bright Superman cape with a cloak of spectral darkness, he is a not-so-Grim Reaper. More than anything, it is the actor's drollness that helps invigorate this creaky vehicle, revived at the Williamstown Theater Festival.
READ MORE HERE

Marisa Berenson with Reeve at Williamstown in HOLIDAY.


Alexis Smith & Joel Grey in PAL JOEY Akron John Kenley Playhouse even older they sizzled!!!! Here is Kenley with Carol Channing and Jay Garner, last Carol Channing tour of "Hello, Dolly!"

Molly Picon in Milk and Honey, early 70s, Westbury. Delicious. Co-stars were that operetta duo, Earl Wrightson and Lois Hunt.


Rex Smith, Stephanie Zimbalist
Stephanie Zimbalist (born October 8, 1956) is an American actress best known for her role as Laura Holt on the NBC detective series Remington Steele.
Patrice Munsel, KT Sullivan
(KT Sullivan Visits Richard Skipper As Carol Channing In Concert)
Read more: and Steven Lehew in CAROUSEL at Westbury. Solid cast in one of my favorite musicals. Also Theo Bikel as ZORBA at Falmouth.

It wasn't the greatest musical I've seen in stock, but the Berkshire Theater Festival's performance of "A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC" with Barbara Barrie (of Barney Miller TV fame) was certainly above par - especially the 'Weekend in the Country' number.


Molly Picon>>Hello Dolly>>>Helen Hayes Theatre

Angela Landsbury >>Gyspy >>>Westbury Music Fair...

This should count: Blythe Danner in BUTTERFLIES ARE FREE.
It tried out in stock in Dennis, Mass. with Maureen O'Sullivan in the role that would be taken by Eileen Heckart (and not a moment too soon). I was thrilled to see Danner in it,
because the previous fall I had seen her in a short-lived musical called UP EDEN off-B'way with George S. Irving and Patti Karr (and another newcomer, Bob Balaban) -- and loved them all.

Blythe Katherine Danner (born February 3, 1943) is an American actress. She is the mother of actress Gwyneth Paltrow and director Jake Paltrow.

Danner was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Katharine (née Kile) and Harry Earl Danner, a bank executive.

She has a brother, opera singer/actor Harry Danner, a sister, former performer turned director Dorothy (Dottie) Danner, and a half brother, violin maker William Moennig. Danner has Pennsylvania Dutch ancestry; one of her great-grandmothers was born in Barbados.

Surprisingly, I guess, but I haven't "seen" a whole heck of a lot of summer stock. In the early '70's, I was in a summer stock production of "Annie, Get Your Gun" with Barbara Eden and John Bennet Perry which did the Music Fair circuit, in the round and still some tents! It was a fabulous time; the cast was really fun. Barbara Eden's son traveled with her much of the time and his "nanny" was Darla Hood's son. Fun time!


Marianne Tatum wrote to me, "I somehow got added to your "question of the day" and can't figure out how to add myself to the list! But....for me it was 1968 - Ginger Rogers - Mame - Houston Music Theatre. I was Gloria Upson. She was fabulous!"
She sent the following to me, "Ginger came to do Mame at Houston Music Theatre in 1968 - HMT was a big - I mean HUGE house in the round - from the southwest freeway it looked like a giant spaceship plopped on top of a big glob of black, hot Texas asphalt. Anyway, we threw these productions together in a week. This lady came into town like a whirlwind - all business - and nobody had ever seen a more professional, dedicated, and tireless actor. It was easy to see how she had done it all "backwards and with heels on." I was only 17 or 18 - I played Gloria. And one Saturday evening performance Ginger went up in the big scene at the end of the 2nd act - where the s!@# hits the fan with the Upson family when they come for dinner - anyway, she went up, and there was this deadly silence - and me - having the fearless brash audacity that only a 17 year old could have - came in with something like "oh, didn't you mean to say blah blah blah.....whatever her line was. So she got back on track, and we went on from there. Afterwards, I was so petrified that she would be angry at me, but she just put her arm around me and said "Thank you so much - you are really gifted, I hope you stick with it, lady, because you've got what it takes!" I will never forget that, never in all my days - especially in my dark ones, when I never thought I'd work again. She was something, that lady!"





Lucie Arnez Annie Get Your Gun 78 Jones Beach Theatre....(ovah Feldshuh (1976 winner for Yentl), Lucie Arnaz (1979 winner for They're Playing Our Song, and Cliff Robertson (1957 winner for Orpheus Descending). Photo courtesy of Van Williams.)

Any of you remember your first summer stock show? Mine was 'Life with Father' (remember "Damn the New Haven") in Sturbridge. I believe it was back in 1950 just before I started as a junior counselor at a summer camp.

Dolores Del Rio in Anastasia 1956 at Westport Country Playhouse. She looked like a teenager and there was an open backed costume that showed the purest skin. Only things aged were the hands. Have treasured photo of her with my 19 year old self. She looks like she was caught in a Confidential type shot. Years later she autographed it for me when she needed house seats for Funny Girl!

I was actually IN a production of The Boyfriend with Dorothy Lamour. She was totally fabulous. She had three black schnauzers that never left her side and really knew how to work an audience. They managed to get her into a sarong for the "You don't Want to Play with Me Blues." The audience went wild!


Rock Hudson as King Arthur in Camelot at the Cape Cod Melody Tent. In truth, I thought he gave a serviceable performance, not extraordinary. Maybe he was bored, maybe he was sick...maybe both?


This is the tip of the iceberg! I have already 50 responses to my Facebook inquiry! The bottom line is these are very strong memories! Go out and see a LIVE show or two this summer and create your memories! Let me make a suggestion!

My friend, Jenny Lynn Stewart is appearing as the Mother Abbess in The Sound of Music with The Regal Players! Patrick Cassidy is starring as Captain von Trapp, Sarah Pfisterer, Maria and Jenny Lynn Stewart as The Mother Abbess. Show dates August 5-14 at Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston. call 781-891-5600. The director is Larry Sousa. Eveyone is taking a fresh look at the show.

Jenny has appeared opposite Marie Osmond and John Davidson in the same role.
The tradition continues!
WIKIPEDIA is a major source of this blog!
And thanks to all who took the time to write of their summer stock memories today!


Thanks for being a loyal reader of my Blog!

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Tomorrow's blog will be a celebration of marriage and weddings!


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TILL TOMORROW...HERE'S TO AN ARTS FILLED JULY!
Richard Skipper, Richard@RichardSkipper.com

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