The heyday of summer theater was coming to the end of an era in the 1960s. There's still plenty of it around today, especially in New England, where it is possible to see journeyman actors and established stars trod the boards of a simple barn-like playhouse.
But the golden era from the late 1940s through the early 1960s gave us a profusion of really big stars traveling to really small towns to perform live. Comedies and musicals were the big draw in this period. These two ads are from two different summer playhouses in the Connecticut River Valley of western Massachusetts. The Storrowton Music Fair, which played in tent, theatre-in-the-round style, was located in West Springfield. Here Lee Remick starred this August week of 1965 in Annie Get Your Gun. The most expensive seats were $3.95.
Under that, we see an ad for the Mt. Tom Playhouse, which was a simple wooden playhouse perched up on Mt. Tom in Holyoke, the city just north of West Springfield. Dana Andrews starred in the comedy, A Remedy for Winter.
They were river towns, small, and since the superhighway I-91 had not yet been constructed along this stretch, accessible by the older, more narrow, eatery-lined Route 5 that crawled up from Connecticut to Vermont parallel to the river. It is far from the bright lights of Broadway, and a different world altogether from Hollywood.
In the coming week, Van Johnson would star at Storrowton in Bye, Bye, Birdie. The husband-and-wife team of Craig Stevens (late of his Peter Gunn gig) and Alexis Smith, would appear in the comedy Mary, Mary.
It would have been a treat to travel to Boston or New York to see any of these actors in these shows, but the thought of them coming to a neighborhood near you (or me, as the case may be), just blows my head off. And for $3.95, on a cool summer evening, in a big tent, or up on the mountain with the wooden screen door slapping shut every time someone opened it (audience or actor making his entrance), keeping out the skeeters.
By the way, I'm planning to write a book on the Mt. Tom Playhouse, and the summer stock group, The Valley Players, that were in residence in the previous decades (Hal Holbrook created his Mark Twain one-man show here). If you have any information, or know of someone who does, please drop me an email: JacquelineTLynch@gmail.com. Thanks.