Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Cleveland: Playhouse Square

Remembering Brel...

Late winter of 1973 saw preparations of turning the grand lobby of the State Theatre into the Playhouse Square Cabaret. We worked day and night on that project. My friend Russell and I spent several weeks stripping black paint off the marble baseboards in the outer lobby. The dark musty space had become a beehive of activity almost over night. Over the course of about a week Smitty had put together a stage using all sorts of odds and ends salvaged from the theatres. The base of the stage was made from the framework of the Cinerama screen. Smitty and I spent a frigid Sunday nailing the rest of the stage together. The stairs that lead up to it were strong enough to support a tank. Over the course of several nights Kevin and Poe had shined the big brass railings on the lobby’s grand stairs. That was quite the transformation. On a Sunday afternoon new chandeliers arrived. They’d been purchased from the Commodore Hotel in Toledo.

Smitty and I spent several days atop scaffolding in the lobby, vacuuming out dirt and dust from the cove lighting trough just below the ceiling. We also figured out why a strip of lighting didn’t work. A mouse had chewed through the wires, shorting out about five feet of lights. To economize on light bulbs, we replaced every other bulb in the trough. My first television appearance was rolling the scaffold across the lobby behind a Ray Shepardson TV interview. An amusing side note was when famed TV commenter, Dorothy Fuldheim blurbed our show, but said it was at the Hippodrome.

As all this activity went on so did rehearsals, “Marathon”, “Marieke” , “Carousel” and the rest of the songs which would be forever tattooed on all our brains would ring out in the huge lobby as work went on. Passersby on the street would look in through the front doors, wondering what was going on in the long vacant State Theatre.

In retrospect, this all came together rather quickly, probably in about six weeks. But at the time it seemed to go on forever. Work intensified as the opening date drew near, Russell and I would be there every day after school, until close to midnight. Soon opening day arrived. It was Wednesday, April 18th the doors opened as we hurriedly rushed about. We skipped school that day, helping to hoist a chandelier into place at the back of the State auditorium. Patrons would park for free in the Playhouse Square garage, and enter through the back of the auditorium and linger for pre-show cocktails, before heading down to the lobby for a buffet, and the show. I vividly recall running a mop across the floor as the first patrons arrived. Among the first to arrive was our English teacher, who asked “why weren’t you guys in class today?” Russell and I feebly responded “ uh, we were sick.” Soon the show went on.

The cast Terry Piteo, Cliff Bemis, David O. Frazier and Providence Hollander received a rousing ovation at the end of the show. The show was only supposed to run for about a month, but when the reviews hit the papers on Friday, April 20, it became a runaway hit. That October there was a big party when the show had it’s 100th performance, little did we know, another 422 would follow. A Marathon indeed!


Anonymous said...

"Uh, we were sick." Is that the best you could drum up for some teacher from Stinkin West.

Stay stoned,


Lu Zemanek said...

awesome!!! love hearing about the history at PlayhouseSquare... thanks for sharing

Frank Dutton said...

What can I say we were 16, and not all that bright.