Thursday, August 5, 2021

Theatergoing Memories Part 1: Summer Stock

I've recently joined a Facebook group called Broadway Remembered. Members post their memories of theater experiences. I'm still on summer vacation and the Broadway theaters won't re-open until the fall, so I have time to recollect all the shows I've seen in nearly 50 years of theatergoing. I put the shows in different categories and posted them to the Facebook group. I've never gotten more likes or responses from anything I've ever posted on FB. So I will be reposting them here on the David Desk blog.

Summer stock is one of the richest sources of memories. Stars from TV and old Broadway used to tour in recent or old shows for one-week stands. The Valley Forge Music Fair and the Philadelphia Playhouse in the Park were the theaters my parents took me to, starting around 1971 when I was about 12. I've been trying to remember all those shows.

At the Valley Forge Music Fair: Ginger Rogers in Coco, Jan Peerce in Fiddler, Angela Lansbury in Gypsy, Yul Brynner in The King and I, Lauren Bacall in Wonderful Town, Eva Gabor in Applause (she broke her ankle and we got the understudy), Frank Gorshin in Promises, Promises (he broke his ankle too but went on anyway), Robert Alda, Vivian Blane, Jane Kean, Selma Diamond, Hildegarde, Mary Small, Lynn Bari in Follies, Theodore Bikel, Lainie Kazan, Julie Wilson in Jacques Brel, Jack Gilford and Lou Jacobi in The Sunshine Boys. Note on Frank Gorshin: He was playing Promises, Promises a week after Gabor had her accident. He broke his ankle and on a local TV talk show when asked how it happened, he said he was doing an imitation of Eva Gabor at a party. At the performance attended, he limped but got through it. What a trouper, as they used to say.

More on Eva Gabor and Applause: When Gabor broke her ankle, her understudy went on for her at the Saturday matinee I attended with my family. There is a big number "But Alive" which expresses Margo Channing's vibrant, unconventional personality when she goes to a gay bar with her hairdresser-companion and Eve instead of the stuffy opening night party. Bacall brought the house down, dancing and singing. When we saw it w/o Gabor, they cut the entire number, going from Margo singing the intro to the song in her dressing room right to her apartment. I never learned if this number was cut because the understudy didn't know it, or if it was always cut because Gabor was not a dancer. It recently occurred to me they may have cut it because the producer may have thought a scene in an unquestionably gay bar would have been too much for the suburban Philadelphia matinee ladies in 1971 or 2-or whenever it was.

Lauren Bacall, Lee Roy Reams, and (I think)
Sammy Williams in the gay bar scene
from Applause.

At the Playhouse in the Park: Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara in Last of the Red Hot Lovers and The Prisoner of Second Avenue, Tom Poston and Marian Mercer in Lovers and Other Strangers, Lynn Redgrave in The Two of Us (three one-acts by Michael Frayn), Maureen Stapleton in The Glass Menagerie, Sandy Dennis and David Selby in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Sandy Dennis and Gale Sondergaard in The Royal Family, Shelley Winters in Cages (two one-acts) and The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Meg Wynn Owen (Upstairs, Downstairs) in Out on a Limb (a revue of James Thurber pieces), Peggy Cass in An Almost Perfect Person, Steve Allen and Marcia Rodd in The Wake (a play by Allen about an Irish-American family), James Whitmore and Audra Lindley in The New Mount Olive Hotel (a lame comedy which was supposed to go to Broadway but never made it), Jan Sterling in The Hot L Baltimore, Paxton Whitehead repeating his Broadway performance as Sherlock Holmes in The Crucifer of Blood, Jean Marsh in Twelfth Night, Tovah Feldshuh in Peter Pan.

Summer stock tours have faded away. Too expensive. The Valley Forge Music Fair was tore down and a Home Depot is in its place. The Playhouse in the Park closed in the early 1980s. Next up will be national tours.
Paxton Whitehead as Sherlock Holmes

No comments:

Post a Comment