Memories of Melody Top: Remembering Milwaukee’s Summer Stock Theatre

When asked in 2011 for a quote to post on this website, Miss Munsel offered the following: "I do remember performing LADY IN THE DARK at Melody Top when, unfortunately, a lady in the front row fell sound asleep during a performance. It was all I could do not to walk down and shake her awake! I did sing everything from there on extra loudly, but she never woke up. It is a shame that we no longer have marvelous places like theatres in the round for summer performances. It was a joy for all of us who were singing the musicals because of wonderful responses from the audiences all around the country." After this well-received 1967 production of LADY IN THE DARK, four cast members would advance to originating supporting roles in Broadway musicals: Kurt Peterson, DEAR WORLD and FOLLIES; Travis Hudson, VERY GOOD EDDIE and THE GRAND TOUR; Don Potter, Angela Lansbury's revival of GYPSY; and Edmund Lyndeck, the original Judge Turpin in SWEENEY TODD.

Lady in the Dark, Color Photo One

A publicity pose from LADY IN THE DARK: Don Potter, left; Sandy West and Nancy Dalton, costumed as horses; Patrice Munsel, center; Gerry Burkhardt, left back; Mike Misita, right back; Stephan Wyzywany, left front; and Dennis Landsman, right front. Photo from the collection of Laurel Ferch.

Lady in the Dark, Color Photo Two

Patrice Munsel in rehearsal for LADY IN THE DARK. Photo from the collection of Laurel Ferch.

Fashion Bright Patrice Munsel Arrives for LADY IN THE DARK

By Jay Joslyn of the Milwaukee Sentinel (June 13, 1967)

Melody Top Theatre's LADY IN THE DARK, Patrice Munsel, arrived in Milwaukee Monday and met the press in the glaring sun of the pool deck at Holiday Inn Central.

Miss Munsel's appearance in the classic musical opening next Tuesday will be something of a fashion revue.

Between high, white Courreges boots and a broad-brimmed, white straw hat, there was a grape colored, one-piece mini-mini-dress (a mod fashion term, it is understood, which means a garment resembling an ice show costume in length).

Mother-Daughter Rapport

Accompanying Miss Munsel was Heidi (Hi-Di-Ho) Schuler, her 14-year old daughter. Heidi, a recent grammar school graduate, was dressed in an authentic Victorian gown of white with a lace shawl.

Both mother and daughter affect long tresses, and there is considerable rapport between them.

For several summers, the Robert C. Schuler family of Brookfield, Long Island, New York, has made the musical tent circuit a family vacation.

Last summer, Heidi; her brothers Rhett (Cokey), 12, and Scott (Chico), 9; and sister Nicole (Nickie), 8, appeared with their mother in THE SOUND OF MUSIC.

Heidi Paid for Dress

It was Heidi's pay for the family musical that went for a number of collector items – Victorian dresses.

"Heidi is very lucky," her mother said. "She has found herself, her style and century. Her tastes avoid many mother and daughter arguments about clothes."

Despite her cool, mod appearance, Miss Munsel believes that styles are becoming "more feminine. The dresses are getting longer. I think it is just wonderful."

From the time Miss Munsel, at 18, became the youngest star ever to appear in a Metropolitan opera company 24 years ago, she has won acclaim and fame in every phase of musical entertainment.

Prefers Musical Comedy

However, she said that her preference is musical comedy.

"I especially like to play vital women of strong feelings," she said. "They give me the chance to 'enjoy.' You know what I mean."

Her favorites in this light are the leading ladies of THE SOUND OF MUSIC, THE MERRY WIDOW, in which she starred on Broadway, CAMELOT and CAN-CAN.

The Melody Top will give her the first chance to play Liza in LADY IN THE DARK, perhaps the most vital and strong-minded woman in musical comedy literature.

"I had a long talk with Kitty Carlisle," she said. "You know her husband was Moss Hart, who wrote the show. She was very excited about my doing it and wants to come out and see it."

Lady in the Dark, Cast Members

The cast of LADY IN THE DARK at Melody Top Theatre, left to right: Patti Kogin, Kurt Peterson, Susan Cadham, Donald Knight, Betty-Ann Carlton, James Bovaird, Steve Stephenson and Travis Hudson. The young ladies in front of cast members were summer apprentices, possibly Debbie Di Frances, Kathy Petrie, Jeanne Torkelson and Allyn Wilson. Photo from the collection of John Fricke.

Opera Star Chooses Wardrobe for Fashion Editor

Black, white clothes selected for LADY IN THE DARK

By Eleanor Coleman of the Journal Staff (June 20, 1967)

The role of fashion editor, it seems, would be appropriate for opera star Patrice Munsel, who likes mini-dresses, boots, big-brimmed hats, fun furs – all that is in vogue at the moment. It would seem likely that it would offer an opportunity to show her own fashion sense. But that isn't the case in LADY IN THE DARK, which opens Tuesday night at Melody Top for a two-week run.

Miss Munsel had to put aside her personal tastes when she picked out her wardrobe for Liza, the fashion editor in the musical.

Liza, as Miss Munsel described her, is "completely introverted. She wears chic clothes, but they're severe." That's why Liza wears only black and white clothes except for a series of dream sequences which occur after she visits a psychoanalyst. For these segments, Liza wears bright colors to illustrate, as Miss Munsel puts it, "what she really wants to be inside."

Miss Munsel's fashion tastes fit more closely to that of the dream Liza than the real Liza. "Personally," she said, "I like hot green, hot yellow, shocking pink. I seldom wear black. My husband hates black unless it is a superbly cut Galanos. He loves hot colors."

Discussed Own Wardrobe

As she selected clothes for the play in a fitting room at Gimbels–Schusters, which is contributing the black and white fashions, Miss Munsel talked about her own wardrobe as well as Liza's.

"Fake these buttons," she told the play costumer as she tried on a white double-breasted jacket. "Reset them. If they were on top it would come over an inch."

Then she talked about her own likes. First there were her favorite designers: "I like Scaasi very much and Galanos. I love Victor Joris. I like Rudi Gernreich for fun. Rodriguez for fabulous embroideries and Halston for hats because he's absolutely mad. He makes hats that are terribly feminine and a little bit nutty."

For daytime wear, she likes dress and coat ensembles. "They are always what I grab no matter how many suits or dresses I have," she said. A favorite is a camel-hair costume with a white leather yoke on the dress, matching leather lapels and buttons on the coat."

Tights and Top

For rehearsals, she likes "bright colors, preferably amusing things." She might wear bright pink or acid green tights, she explained, with high boots and a bright orange top.

Patrice Munsel, Daughter Heidi and Dog Worry.

"I live in very dressy pants or pajamas and djellabas at home," she said, adding that she had been wearing djellabas and caftans long before they came into fashion. She bought them on a trip she and her husband took to Morocco 14 years ago. She trimmed one caftan with silver fox and has been wearing it as an evening coat ever since – and she had some of the djellabas cut off to wear over swimsuits.

"I was tickled to death when it suddenly became a…"

Miss Munsel didn't finish the sentence. She was back with Liza's problems. "Something isn't right here," she said of a black dress she was trying on. "It's the bias cut. It's the cut, not the size."

Then it was back to herself. "I have a husband (television producer Robert C. Schuler) who loves amusing, fun, chic, wild clothes. I never have to worry about his reactions."

For more than two hours she slipped into one dress after another, taking only a few moments to consider the merits of each.

She wore cinnamon-colored panty hose, which she said she prefers for dancing; a blue bra, which was sometimes discarded; and orange patent shoes with golden metal buckles.

A side-buttoned dress received a favorable reaction. "This would be easy to get out of for that scene." But she finally turned it down.

She considered a white linen dress in place of a white wool knit. She gathered the skirt in a ball and squeezed it and the verdict was "nope." It wrinkled and clothes "must be practical for stage work," she told the reporter.

In and out of the fitting room (along with several other people – store personnel, other members of the cast) was Heidi, Miss Munsel's 14-year old daughter who was doing some shopping for herself. She bought some lingerie and then, at her mother's request, tried on a red coat. "Mommy, it doesn't go on me," she said. "It's too overpowering."

What Heidi really wanted was a gown to wear to a dance this week. It was decided to have the play costumer make it, so Heidi went off to the fabric department to pick out the material.

Wardrobe Chosen

Finally, Liza's selections were made: a crepe gown in navy (it would look like black on the stage) and white, a black crepe sleeveless dress with a cowl neckline and a bow below it, a white wool knit dress with short sleeves and gold metal buttons, a white skirt piped in black which was made by the Milwaukee firm of Junior House and could be worn interchangeably with two jackets (one sleeveless), one black and one white ribbed turtleneck sweaters.

Miss Munsel slipped into her own orange dress and gave final instructions: she also needed panty hose like the kind she was wearing (they came from Sears, she reported) and she wanted a white straw fedora – "like a Garbo cloche with the brim."

With her yellow sunglasses placed over a wide, white headband, Miss Munsel was ready for rehearsal. "The director called," someone announced as Miss Munsel left the fitting room.

Lady in the Dark, Cast Members

More of the cast of LADY IN THE DARK at Melody Top Theatre, left to right: Patrice Munsel, Jack Drummond, Susan Beil, Candace Tovar, Gerry Burkhardt, Michael Misita, Nancy Dalton and Stephan Wyzywany. Photo from the collection of John Fricke.

LADY IN THE DARK Cast of Characters

Maggie Grant:Travis Hudson
Charley Johnson:Jack Drummond
Russell Paxton:Don Potter
Kendall Nesbitt:Steve Stephenson
Dr. Brooks:Edmund Lyndeck
Miss Bowers:Betty-Ann Carlton
Liza Elliott:Patrice Munsel
Miss Foster:Sandra West
Alison du Bois:Mary Jane Kimbrough
Randy Curtis:John Granger
Office Boys:Dennis Landsman, Michael Misita
Liza's Mother:Susan Beil
Liza's Father:James Bovaird
Guests:Dennis Landsman, Susan Cadham
Little Liza:Donna Peters
Mrs. Bennett:Patti Kogin
Ben Butler:Gerry Burkhardt
Barbara:Candace Tovar
Jack:Kurt Peterson

Models: Nancy Dalton, Susan Beil and Betty-Ann Carlton.

Ensemble: Susan Beil, Susan Cadham, Betty-Ann Carlton, Nancy Dalton, Patti Kogin, Candace Tovar, Sandra West, James Bovaird, Gerry Burkhardt, Donald Knight, Dennis Landsman, Michael Misita, Kurt Peterson and Stephan Wyzywany.

Lady in the Dark, Dream Sequence

A larger, clearer version of the photo at the top of this page. Photo from the collection of John Fricke.

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