re: What was the Strawhat Theater circuit like?
Posted by: portenopete 01:47 pm EDT 08/14/21
In reply to: What was the Strawhat Theater circuit like? - bobby2 01:00 am EDT 08/14/21

Thanks for the question since it encouraged me to read the Wikipedia entry on summer stock theatre. Looks like the Elitch Theater in Denver CO is where it kicked off in 1890.

I was lucky enough to be part of a family that vacationed in Maine every summer so I was taken to the Ogunquit Playhouse from the age of 10. There was a season of about ten plays and musicals: the plays would usually run a week and the musicals would run two weeks. In the 1970's pretty much every show had a star in it, sometimes a veteran theatre or opera star but more often a TV name. I got to see John Raitt in both Shenandoah and Carousel (at 65!), Patrice Munsel in Mame, Paul Lipson in Fiddler, James MacArthur and Cybill Shepherd in Lunch Hour, David McCallum and Carole Shelley in Donkey's Years and Shaun Cassidy, Betsy Palmer and John McMartin in The Subject Was Roses (during the years 1976-82).

By the late '80s there were fewer names above the title. Sugar Babies featured Rudy Tronto and Susan Elizabeth Scott, both accomplished performers but hardly the same wattage as Ann Miller and Mickey Rooney.

Ogunquit has been successful in maintaining (and even improving) its reputation presenting only musicals for many years now and casting working New York actors with many Broadway credits, with an occasional star name thrown in. (Sally Struthers makes an annual appearance most seasons, this year as Frau Blucher- cue the horse- in Young Frankenstein.)

I know that on some of the circuits in the past, only the star would tour and in each city he or she would be joined by a different supporting cast, who would serve that function for all the plays in the season. There is a great, chatty memoir I found at Larry McMurtry's book store in Archer City TX written by a woman who opened a barn theatre in Connecticut in the 1950's and it's full of great anecdotes about the epic effort to get the first season up. I do remember one of those star shows was Springtime for Henry, which Edward Everett Horton toured in for years.

There is a similar circuit in Canada called Drayton Entertainment, which operates seven or eight summer theatres- many barn like in appearance- throughout Southern Ontario. They are cast with many of the best musical performers in Canada and occasionally a star from the USA will drop in: recently Cindy Williams played Mrs. Meers in Millie and George Wendt was Willy Loman in Salesman and Don Most was one of the trio in Art.

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