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

September of 2017 saw the passing – within three days – of both stars who headlined a rare Melody Top production of HIGH BUTTON SHOES: Anne Jeffreys, age 94, September 27, 2017; and Monty Hall, age 96, September 30, 2017. Seldom produced in today's musical theater scene, HIGH BUTTON SHOES offered, according to Journal critic Dominique Paul Noth on July 5, 1978, "a world of parasols, bathing beauties, country picnics, and city spats. The costumes are snazzy. The baby Model T Ford and other props are cute. The chorus vocalizes robustly and accurately...the production can do no more than lurch from pleasantry to pleasantry."

The Cast of HIGH BUTTON SHOES at Melody Top

The entire cast of HIGH BUTTON SHOES (1978) takes a bow: Clyde Laurents, Nancy McCloud, Joel Kopischke, John Hallow, Anne Jeffreys, Monty Hall, Floyd King, Alice Cannon and Robb Alton. Photo courtesy of Nancy McCloud.

MONTY HALL (Harrison Floy): Monty Hall began to sing and act at age five in neighborhood productions. His professional career began in his native Winnipeg while at the University of Manitoba. In addition to work in all the school shows, he served as master of ceremonies for Canadian Army entertainments during World War II and resumed his career in Toronto after graduation as an actor, singer, and sportscaster.

In 1955, he moved to New York to begin a five-year run with NBC's "Monitor," and emceed such shows as "Keep Talking" and "Byline: Monty Hall." In 1960, he became host of "Video Village," which took him to Hollywood; while there he sold his first production, "Your First Impression" to NBC and, during the next frantic year, commuted from CBS to NBC, performing during the day on one show and producing the other at night. His next package, "Let's Make a Deal," has passed into television annals as one of the greatest and most popular game shows of all time. After 12-1/2 years on network TV, the program was subsequently syndicated; during all those years, the face and name of Monty Hall became welcome in homes all over the country.

Mr. Hall starred at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas and in his own variety show specials for ABC. He has also appeared as guest star on "The Odd Couple," "Love, American Style," the Flip Wilson, Dean Martin and Dinah Shore showcases, and many others.

Monty's life away from performing has been even more important to him. He has traveled the United States, Canada, and Europe extensively, working for countless charities and serving on many committees; he currently sits on the boards of many hospitals and preventative organizations. These philanthropic activities have brought him many accolades and awards, and he was read into the Congressional Record for organizing the all-star show for the families of the tragic Wichita State and Marshall University air disasters. In April 1975, he was elected President of the Variety Clubs International, the world's largest children's charity, and is currently serving as Chairman of the Board. (Telethons he has hosted on behalf of Variety Clubs alone have raised some $10,000,000 to date.)

Mr. Hall is married to former Canadian actress Marilyn Plottel, who combines the two careers of writer and housewife. They have three children: Joanna Gleason (recent star of the Broadway hit I LOVE MY WIFE), Richard (a recent Yale graduate, author, and ABC News affiliate in New York), and Sharon (fourteen; "she hasn't done too much yet, but watch out!" warns Dad!).

ANNE JEFFREYS (Mama Longstreet): "Incomparable" is a word that gets thrown around a lot in the theatrical profession, but all of us at Melody Top feel that Anne Jeffreys has more true claim to it than just about anyone! Her past appearances in THE DESERT SONG, SONG OF NORWAY, and the record-breaking THE KING AND I were happy preludes to last summer's tour-de-force in FOLLIES; a magnificent performance as Phyllis Rogers Stone – complete with regal (albeit witchy – with a "b") dialogue, a shimmering fringe jazz dance, and a dazzling abundance of heart. Offstage, she packs enough energy to send us all reeling; once Anne leaves town, the staff takes to its respective beds but, while she's here...well, in HER worlds, "Look out, Milwaukee! Here I come again!"

Such activity continues unabated away from Milwaukee as well. As president of the highly respected SHARE organization, she navigated their prestigious annual production to its greatest success this spring, scoring the all-time coup of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr. performing together again for the fortunate ticket holders.

Anne started her professional career as a teenager, modeling for John Robert Powers while pursuing an operatic career. A Hollywood musical revue led to an MGM film, I MARRIED AN ANGEL and, in turn, to contracts with Republic and R.K.O. Studios. Her film credits during the 1940s include FLYING TIGERS with John Wayne and STEP LIVELY with Frank Sinatra.

Her concert work continued between film assignments; Kurt Weill heard one such appearance and signed her for his New York STREET SCENE. Anne stayed on Broadway for Sigmund Romberg's MY ROMANCE and alternated between New York, California, and national tours for BITTER SWEET, THE MERRY WIDOW, and KISS ME, KATE.

While on Broadway with KISS ME, KATE, Anne met and married Robert Sterling, then appearing across Shubert Alley in THE GRAMERCY GHOST. They have three sons: Jeffrey, Dana, and Tyler.

After Anne's THREE WISHES FOR JAMIE on Broadway, she and her husband joined forces in a cabaret act that toured the finest clubs in the country. The resultant success of that professional coupling led to the long-running, ever-popular, and very fondly remembered "Topper" TV series when – as George and Marion Kirby – they played the "Ghosts with the Most!"

After "Topper" – and in between increasing duties as mother of three – Anne managed to star in full-scale West Coast and St. Louis Muny Opera productions of KISMET and DESTRY RIDES AGAIN. The former played Lincoln Center in New York. Lyricist Alan Jay Lerner also captured her for the Broadway run of CAMELOT and she later recreated "Guenevere" on a national tour.

The Jeffreys voice and dramatic presence have glowed on virtually every dramatic and musical television showcase; she was a Golden Globe nominee for her work in "The Delphi Bureau" series. In repertory and stock theater, she has starred in CAROUSEL, ANNIVERSARY WALTZ, BELLS ARE RINGING, NINOTCHKA, DO I HEAR A WALTZ?, THE MOST HAPPY FELLA, and NO SEX, PLEASE, WE'RE BRITISH.

An Aquarius, born in North Carolina, Anne says she owes everything to her mother, who started and managed her career and even chose Robert Sterling as the man she should marry. After 23 years of marriage, three fine sons, and a well-rounded career, the gregarious actress says, "My life has been a full, happy, and active one, and I hope I'll always be as busy as a blind dog in a meat shop. I thrive on activity."

Production Photos from HIGH BUTTON SHOES

High Button Shoes Production 1 High Button Shoes Production 2 High Button Shoes Production 3 High Button Shoes Production 4 High Button Shoes Production 5 High Button Shoes Production 6 High Button Shoes Production 7 High Button Shoes Production 8 High Button Shoes Production 9 High Button Shoes Production 10

SHOES Nicely Laced

By Jay Joslyn, the Milwaukee Sentinel, Wednesday, July 5, 1978

"Let's Make a Deal" set to Jule Styne music opened at the Melody Top Theater Tuesday night.

Despite his Harold Lloyd glasses and book character, Monty Hall did not fool a person. He was the same fast-talking dealer in greed we have come to love.

However, it was good for the show that producer Martin Wiviott provided Hall with a strong supporting case and, especially, such a trustworthy leading lady as Anne Jeffreys. Hall doesn't project very far into the domed theater.

The show, HIGH BUTTON SHOES, is a pre-World War I idyll about the great American pursuit of happiness and the dollar. Hall is typecast as the prototype hustler.

However, the plot's light-handed brush with social comment is merely a scaffold for a tune showcase in which "The Things We Did Last Summer" and "Papa, Won't You Dance with Me?" sparkle with evergreen nostalgia.

Both hits are sung by Miss Jeffreys, whose clear, strong soprano voice and sure stage touch form the basis for what success the show has.

The love duets are well handled by Alice Cannon, last week's Wendy, and Robb Alton, again turning in a fine, rustic Henry Lee impression.

John Hallow serves as a good foil as Miss Jeffreys' helpmate and Hall's sucker, while Floyd King makes a memorable Top debut as an open-faced comic.

After two weeks of fascinating stage tricks and effects with PETER PAN, director Stuart Bishop has returned in this show to the slick, straight rushing fun he does so well.

With the exception of the pretty "Get Away for a Day in the Country" number and the hectic "Keystone Kops Ballet," choreographer James Smock does not make many demands of his good-looking chorus.

Fourth of July activities cut back on the size of the opening night audience. However, HIGH BUTTON SHOES is the kind of handsome, melodious fluff that is ideal for passing summertime away pleasantly.

HIGH BUTTON SHOES Cast of Characters

Harrison Floy:Monty Hall
Mr. Pontdue:Floyd King
Uncle Willie:Clyde Laurents
Papa Longstreet:John Hallow
Stevie:Joel Kopischke
Fran:Alice Cannon
Mama Longstreet:Anne Jeffreys
Hubert Ogglethorpe:Robb Alton
Elmer Simpkins:Nathan Davis
Shirley Simpkins:Sandra Dehner-Wheeler
Mr. Anderson:Clyde Miller

Citizens of New Brunswick: Eric Aaron, Ann Arvia, Dennis Batutis, Mib Bramlette, Judith Ann Conte, G. Jan Jones, Bradley Keating, Robert Kellett, Beth Morgan, Diane Nicole, Bruce Senesac, K. David Short, Kathy Taylor, Jan Wahl and Jerry Ziaja.

Robb Alton and Alice Cannon in HIGH BUTTON SHOES at Melody Top

Robb Alton and Alice Cannon in HIGH BUTTON SHOES (1978). Photos courtesy of Robb Alton.

©2009-2023 D.G.P., Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Please visit the contact information page to address the webmaster.