Thursday, June 9, 2011

Happy 80th Birthday to Westport Country Playhouse – June 29, 2011

June 9, 2011

By Patricia Blaufuss
Public Relations Manager

In honor of Westport Country Playhouse’s 80th birthday on June 29, 2011, I’ve been asked to blog about the Playhouse’s storied past during the month of June. 

In addition to serving as public relations manager, I’m the Playhouse historian, along with Bruce Miller, company manager.  We both have a handle on all things Playhouse history – and have been associated with the Playhouse for many years. 

Seven years ago I had the privilege of gathering historic anecdotes and images in helping prepare a 75th anniversary book - An American Theatre: The Story of Westport Country Playhouse by Richard Somerset-Ward, published by Yale University Press in 2005.  It tells how Playhouse founder Lawrence Langner transformed a tannery into a theater; how Richard Rodgers, seeing a production of Green Grow the Lilacs on the Playhouse stage, was inspired to transform the play into the musical Oklahoma!; and how Lerner and Lowe, viewing Pygmalion at the Playhouse, proceeded to create the musical My Fair Lady.

The book also gives the back stories on Playhouse to Broadway transfers of Come Back, Little Sheba; Butterflies Are Free; and Our Town.  It relates how the Playhouse first became a Broadway try-out house, later evolving into a summer stock theater showcasing “star” packages. All in all, the book offers an extremely comprehensive look at the Playhouse over its first 75 years. 

Since the summer of 1985 when I began working in the Playhouse press and marketing department (I’ve been here longer than Oprah had her television show!), I’ve picked up a lot of history. Some of these tidbits didn’t make the cut for the book.  Most stories aren’t major milestones.  But, they’ll serve as some “insider” blogging posts on our website during this month of June.  They’re a few memories that stand out in my mind and some fun tales that make the Playhouse what it was, and is today.

Yes, it was 80 years ago, on June 29, 1931, when the first production was staged at the Playhouse – The Streets of New York.  And the curtain continues to rise on the Playhouse’s long run.

The red velvet main act curtain, prior to renovation in 2003.
Photo by Fran Collin, for Westport Magazine

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