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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Playhouse Celebrates 80-Year Run

By James Lomuscio

With a colorful cake that looked like an architect’s rendering of the place, the Westport Country Playhouse today celebrated its 80th anniversary in an outdoor ceremony that looked at its past and to its future. WestportNow.com Image
Champagne, a Playhouse model cake, and proclamations made up today’s 80th birthday celebration for the Westport Country Playhouse. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Larry Untermeyer for WestportNow.com

Replete with music, proclamations from First Selectman Gordon Joseloff and state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg and champagne toasts, the event piqued the memories of playhouse alumni and supporters.

“It was a wonderful place,” said Dr. Warren Pitsey of Fairfield, who had worked as a summer stock production assistant from 1949 to 1951.

The retired pathologist recalled working alongside Claudette Colbert when she starred there in “Island Fling.”

“The Westport Country Playhouse has put Westport on the world stage,” said Joseloff. “It’s what makes Westport so special.”

In his proclamation Joseloff noted that the playhouse opened June 29, 1931 with Dorothy Gish starring in “The Streets of New York.” In 1990, he said, the building was put on the state’s Register of Historic Places and was later revamped into a year round theater officially opened in 2005.

Steinberg, in reading a proclamation from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, noted that in its history the Playhouse has produced more than 700 shows and welcomed more than 4 million patrons.

“I remember coming here as a child and hearing my elders talk about it with such reverence and pride,” said Steinberg. “I’m very pleased to be here today.”WestportNow.com Image
Warren Pitsey (r) of Fairfield, who worked at the Playhouse as a summer stock production assistant from 1949 to 1951, chats today with Michael Ross, managing director. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

Michael Ross, managing director of the playhouse, called the anniversary “historic.”

“Thank you all for gathering with us for this important, historic moment,” he said. “This theater is important to the theater community throughout the country and, of course, Westport.”

Artistic Director Mark Lamos noted that there are few theaters throughout the country that can boast the Westport Country Playhouse’s longevity. He also took time to thank those who worked tirelessly over the years to sustain the playhouse.

He credited the late Jim McKenzie, who served as managing director for 41 years, and Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Anne Keefe and others instrumental in transforming the theater from a time worn summer playhouse into an exemplary year round venue.

Lamos said he not only wanted to celebrate the theater’s past and present, but “to think about its future” dependent upon a new generation of theater goers and supporters.

“It gives back to the community what the community gives to it,” he said.

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Posted 06/29/11 at 05:45 PM  Permalink



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