Friday, August 15, 2014

Summer Stock Memories

Lauren Bacall's passing reminded me I had seen her starring in a summer stock touring production of Wonderful Town at the Valley Forge Music Fair in about 1977. That type of show is pretty much gone. There are still summer stock productions, but not touring editions with stars from TV, the stage and old movies on their breaks taking out the latest hits from Broadway or old warhorses in one-week stands through the Northeast and New England. My parents used to take me to these at Valley Forge and the Playhouse in the Park in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park. There we saw Maureen Stapleton in The Glass Menagerie, Sandy Dennis in The Royal Family and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Jan Sterling in The Hot L Baltimore, Lynn Redgrave in The Two of Us, a collection of one-acts, Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara in The Last of the Red Hot Lovers and The Prisoner of Second Avenue, Tovah Feldshuh in Peter Pan, James Whitmore and Audra Lyndley in a play called The New Mount Olive Motel which never made it to New York, and Paxton Whitehead as Sherlock Holmes in The Crucifer of Blood. Vacant for 12 years, the Playhouse was demolished in 1997.

The Valley Forge Music Fair used to be like a circus tent with a fabric top and when it rained heavily, the noise was so loud you couldn't hear the show. That happened during part of Coco with Ginger Rogers. (It was later renovated as a permanent theater.) We did see Applause there, but not with Bacall. Eva Gabor was the star (if you can imagine Margo Channing with a Hungarian accent.) She had broken her ankle and we had to make do with the understudy. It was at the performance that we saw nuns change their seats and I said to my father, "If nuns can move closer, so can we." Frank Gorshin was headlining Promises, Promises the following week and he broke his ankle as well (He joked he was doing an Eva Gabor impersonation at a party.) But he was a real trooper and went on for the matinee which we attended. Also at Valley Forge, we saw Vivian Blaine, Robert Alda, Jane Kean and Selma Diamond in Follies, Angela Lansbury in Gypsy (before the production went to Broadway), Jan Peerce in Fiddler on the Roof, Theodore Bikel and Lanie Kazan in Jacques Brel. In the 1980s, musicals and plays became too expensive and they presented only solo star attractions like Robert Goulet, Jim Nabors, Eartha Kitt, Kenny Rogers, etc. In 1996, the Music Fair was torn down to make way for a shopping center.

1 comment:

  1. Hi David. I too saw Hot L Baltimore at Playhouse in the Park. I am trying to find out who played Suzie, the woman who dropped her town in the first scene. My entire life I thought it was Bernadette Peters, but I can’t seem to find out who the cast was and can find no reference to her. Would you know who played her and what year this was?

    Thank you!