Wednesday, May 4, 2011

100 Years of Theater Echo at Ivoryton Playhouse

Jacqueline Hubbard
The Ivoryton Playhouse is celebrating 100 years of laughter, drama, music, romance and applause -- a history that includes 2,436 stage kisses, 764 love stories, 522 villains, the stage debut of Katharine Hepburn and appearances by America’s greatest stars, and that today builds on that singular heritage.
At a May 21 red-carpet benefit, guests will see a show that illustrates the central role that the theater has played over a century -- scenes from productions that starred Helen Hays, Tallulah Bankhead, Betty Grable, Marlon Brando, Groucho Marx, Paul Robeson, Ezio Pinza, Don Ameche, and many other stage legends, all of whom were brought to Ivoryton by Milton Stiefel, who had the vision to create what became America’s most enduring summer theater, now a year-round stage.

Building on that rich heritage is crucial to Jacqueline Hubbard, who has been the Playhouse’s executive and artistic director for 12 years.

“Like everything else in this world, the theatre has seen a lot of changes over the past 100 years.]," she said. "Today, with so much of our lives spent in virtual communication, the theater plays an even more vital role; especially here in Ivoryton where the history and the intimacy of the space make the experience of coming to this theater so unique. We are proud to preserve this rich theatrical heritage and thrilled to be able to bring new and exciting performers and performances to this area.”

Indeed, the remainder of the 2011 season shows the kind of theatrical diversity and relevance that Stiefel had in mind. From Neil Simon’s perennial favorite, the romantic comedy Barefoot in the Park, to the hilarity of Mel Brooks with the Broadway hit The Producers, followed by a true American classic Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash - featuring members of the Broadway cast. The fall continues the season with the pop sensation The Marvelous Wonderettes – all your favorite songs of the '50s and '60s and the spine chilling The Woman in Black.

On Sunday, May 22, Ivoryton will continue the celebrations with a town-wide event including free family theater in the Playhouse, live music on the green and horse and bugg rides. The Ivoryton Tavern is turning into a 1950’s soda fountain for the day; Six Summit Gallery will offer mask making for children; storytelling at the Ivoryton Library and Aggies Restaurant will feature a tag sale and cupcake decorating. 

Built in 1911 as a recreation hall for the workers of the Comstock-Cheney factory, the Ivoryton Playhouse has been an important part of Connecticut’s cultural landscape for every one of its 100 years. Traveling vaudeville shows and silent movies entertained residents of the shoreline area in its early years.
With his New York and Hollywood connections, Stiefel brought the stars to Ivoryton. Established actors like Henry Hull and Norma Terris signed on to perform.  The reputation of the Playhouse grew nationally and Paramount Pictures produced a short film showing its complete operation.

In recent years the theater has continued to win critical praise: Connecticut Critic Circle Awards and, most recently, a Shoreline Arts Alliance Bravo award in 2010 for Best Theatre and the 2010 Shoreline Times Readers Poll Best Theatre award.   
Milton Stiefel and Katharine Hepburn
For more information on the benefit, the 2011 season, and all things Ivoryton Playhouse, please call 860-767-9520 or visit the newly designed website at

The upcoming schedule:
Barefoot in the Park
June 8 – 26

The Producers
July 6 – 31

Ring of Fire:  The Music of Johnny Cash
Aug. 10 – Sept. 4

The Marvelous Wonderettes
Sept. 28 – Oct. 16

The Woman in Black
Nov. 2 – 20

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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