A “before” photo courtesy of James Milligan taken in 2010*
By Lynda Jeffrey Plott
Something truly wonderful happened this past Monday night, July 2, 2012, in New Hope, Pennsylvania! The beloved Bucks County Playhouse reopened with a glittering performance of Rogers and Hammerstein’s A GRAND NIGHT FOR SINGING.
The Playhouse, a centuries old grist mill, was transformed into a theater in 1939. During its heyday, the theater attracted some of the biggest and brightest names in show business. Over the decades, luminaries such as Grace Kelly, Helen Hayes, Kitty Carlisle, George C. Scott, Colleen Dewhurst, Angela Lansbury, Liza Minelli, Arthur Godfrey, Harpo Marx, Walter Matthau, Alan Alda, Dick Van Dyke and Merv Griffin performed at the Playhouse.
Many world premieres were performed at this landmark theater. In 1963, Neil Simon’s play Nobody Loves Me (directed by Mike Nichols) had a try-out run at the Bucks County Playhouse before going on to Broadway and being renamed Barefoot in the Park. What a thrill it was for me, a 16 year-old waitress at a swanky ice cream parlor just around the corner from the Playhouse, when the stars of the show, Robert Redford and Elizabeth Ashley, stopped by for some soda fountain treats!
For over seventy years, the Bucks County Playhouse helped to define American regional theater. But, unfortunately, its days of glory were numbered. During the last couple of decades, the theater suffered a number of setbacks and was steadily on the decline. In December, 2010, the theater finally closed its doors and, the official State Theater of Pennsylvania, went up for sheriff’s sale.
But, thankfully, that’s not the end of the story. The Bucks County area is filled with enough “cockeyed optimists” who found a way to give this important historic landmark a new life.
After months of uncertainty, the Bridge Street Foundation (founded by Bucks County philanthropists, Kevin and Sherri Daugherty) and the Bucks County Playhouse Conservancy (under the direction of Peggy McRae) acquired the iconic New Hope theater. And that was the moment when “something wonderful” started happening!
The Playhouse has been lovingly restored to its former glory. The leaky roof, the duct-taped seats, the creaky floor boards, the broken stage lights, and the flooded-out dressing rooms are all a thing of the past. With an outpouring of millions of dollars and five months of intensive planning and labor, the Bucks County Playhouse is back! Believe me, this grand dame of a theater has never looked better! And to top things off, the first production that will breathe new life into the amazing legacy of the theater is none other than a Rogers and Hammerstein revue called “A Grand Night For Singing.” This two-act Tony nominated (1994) musical revue is “a love letter to two seminal figures of musical theater.”
It only seems fitting that the songs of Oscar Hammerstein II, a Bucks County resident and an early supporter of the Playhouse, will be the inspiration which carries the theater into a new era of revitalization and hope. Oscar with his sunny disposition, his belief in happy endings and his adherence to the unfailing power of goodness has certainly cast a bright golden haze over the Playhouse.
My husband and I were among the hundreds of guests and well-wishers who gathered in front of the Playhouse this past Monday night to celebrate the reopening of this beloved community theater. I can tell you this… it was certainly a grand night from beginning to end!
Thank you to Lynda Jeffrey Plott, our OSCAR AND I star correspondent, supporter and contributor, for this happy report. Part II will be posted on July 10, 2012.
James Milligan’s photo of the playhouse is published in HAUNTED VILLAGE AND VALLEY: A Ghostly Journey Through New Hope and the Delaware Valley published by Rowe Publishing and authored by Adi-Kent Thomas Jeffrey. Mrs. Jeffrey, Lynda’s mother, is the New York Times Best-selling author of THE BURMUDA TRIANGLE published in 1975.