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

Often called the most-produced musical in the history of summer stock, SOUTH PACIFIC appeared on Melody Top's season schedule four times: in 1965, 1973, 1980 and 1985. This 1973 production reunited former costars, Ann Blyth and Mitchell Gregg, from the previous season's record-setting staging of THE SOUND OF MUSIC. In the Milwaukee Sentinel, critic Stuart Wilk called this SOUTH PACIFIC "a nearly perfect midsummer night's entertainment. In the hands of Stuart Bishop's exuberant cast, it is indeed some enchanted evening."

ANN BLYTH (Nellie Forbush) returns to Milwaukee for her third Melody Top appearance. Last summer Miss Blyth drew raves from both critics and audiences for her portrayal of Maria in the award-winning musical THE SOUND OF MUSIC. This talented veteran actress played Magnolia in SHOW BOAT during the summer of 1970 and drew raves for that performance also.

From radio to the legitimate theatre to motion pictures, TV and supper clubs, the lovely Miss Blyth built a reputation for versatility and talent equaled by few in any of the individual fields of artistic endeavor.

Having started what was to be a lifelong career of entertaining people when she was a mere five years old – singing on a radio station in New York – Ann is one of Hollywood's most amazing phenomenon, an actress who has found increasing success in her maturity. Most child actresses seem to fade away into obscurity as they reach their teens, but not Ann. The spotlight of fame, once focused on her, has not dimmed but indeed has become brighter as she has matured as an actress, as a singer and as a woman. However, the most important role of her life is her current one – that of wife and mother – and it is this role that governs her career.

Ann feels fortunate that she has been given a true and lilting singing voice, for it is so wonderfully sweet that rave reviews have greeted her appearances at the world-famed Cocoanut Grove in Los Angeles, Sahara Hotel in Vegas, as well as her TV guest spots.

Her true dramatic ability came to the industry's attention when she was propelled by her performance in MILDRED PIERCE. Director Michael Curtiz selected her as a sixteen year-old girl to play the sexy and headstrong daughter, a role which won her an Academy Award nomination. Ann is, however, best known as a motion picture actress for her musical roles in such pictures as THE GREAT CARUSO, ROSE MARIE, THE STUDENT PRINCE and KISMET.

Ann's model life has long caused her to be considered one of the foremost ambassadors of good will for the motion picture industry. She often is called on to represent it at prestigious social affairs. Her personal life is held in the highest regard and is often used as a symbol for the best of Hollywood.

The talent and the almost flawless beauty that have kept Ann at the top of the stardom ladder practically from the first time she stepped before a movie camera are still there, but to them has been added a sultry quality, a mixture of flame and fire that gives new and deeper dimensions to her appeal as an actress.

Born in Mt. Kisco, New York on August 16, the youngest daughter of Harry and Nan Lynch Blyth, she made her professional debut at the age of five, singing and reciting "The Chimes of Normandy" on New York radio station WJZ. Before she completed her grade school education at St. Patrick's School in Manhattan, she was already an established radio actress. In her spare time, she studied dancing, drama and radio technique at Ned Weyburn's dramatic school.

While still attending Children's Professional School, Ann joined the San Carlo Opera Company and for three seasons sang at the Center Theatre. Then Herman Shumlin, Broadway producer, selected her for the role of Babette, the daughter, in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, WATCH ON THE RHINE, in which she appeared with Paul Lukas, Lucille Watson and Mady Christians. During the show's 11-month run on Broadway and nine months on the road, Ann was hailed as a brilliant new dramatic find of the theatre.

At fourteen, she was spotted as screen material and signed to a contract by Universal Studios, which immediately ignored her dramatic ability and cast her in a series of innocuous little musicals. It was at this period in her life that she was borrowed by Warner Bros. from Universal for her role in MILDRED PIERCE. Mike Curtiz' judgment in her was more than justified for even before the picture was released the Hollywood grapevine buzzed with the news that a fine new actress had been discovered.

In 1953, Ann became the bride of Dr. James McNulty. Here again, as in her professional life, Ann gained the enviable respect of Hollywood as having one of the "most happy marriages." Dr. McNulty is both a respected obstetrician and a fine father and husband. He understands show business, for he is the brother of Dennis Day. They have an ideal family of five children.

She is extremely active in charitable work and received numerous awards for her devotion to civic responsibilities. St. Joseph's College in Emmitsburg, Maryland awarded her a doctorate in humane letters and, most recently, she was the recipient of the 1966 Saint Mary's College Genesian Award for outstanding service to humanity through the performing arts.

Ann is known as a triple-threat personality, for she is equally at ease in dramatic, comedy or singing roles. Her lovely soprano has been heard in a wide variety of musicals. Her dramatic talents have been displayed in MILDRED PIERCE, THE HELEN MORGAN STORY and many more. Ann also has a delightful touch in light comedy. Several summers ago, she launched an entirely new facet of her career by appearing in summer stock and scored such a resounding success that today she is one of the most popular stars in that booming area of show business. What is most rewarding to the actress is the fact she has been asked to come back to many of these cities time and time again.

Backstage at South Pacific

Backstage at Melody Top Theatre, Ann Blyth is flanked by two doormen wearing their customary red-and-white striped jackets during the run of SOUTH PACIFIC. All of the photographs on this page were supplied from the photo albums of Gary Bruski, who worked a variety of jobs at the venue including assistant stage manager.

MITCHELL GREGG (Emile de Becque) returns to Melody Top for the second time – and it also marks the second time he will play opposite Ann Blyth on the stage beneath "the Top." Last summer, Mr. Gregg played Captain Georg von Trapp opposite Miss Blyth's portrayal of Maria in THE SOUND OF MUSIC. The duo drew such raves that Melody Top producer Martin Wiviott announced at the last performance of THE SOUND OF MUSIC that they would be back, this summer, opposite each other in SOUTH PACIFIC.

Mr. Gregg appeared in a host of musicals on Broadway including NO STRINGS opposite Diahann Carroll and THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN opposite Tammy Grimes. He stood by for Fernando Lamas in HAPPY HUNTING and was Rex Dexter in SAY DARLING.

Ethel Merman's PANAMA HATTIE gave Mitchell his first Broadway job after which he played romantic leads in MUSIC IN THE AIR during its revival. Mr. Gregg was a Brazilian millionaire in the lavish musical HOLLY GOLIGHTLY. He was also featured in FADE OUT, FADE IN with Carol Burnett.

He sang in such New York clubs as the Diamond Horseshoe, the Latin Quarter, Number One Fifth Avenue and Versailles.

He also made guest appearances on many TV shows including "The Ed Sullivan Show." For nearly two years, he played a featured role on "The Edge of Night."

On tour and in stock, he played leads in numerous musicals, including CALL ME MADAM; HAPPY HUNTING; GUYS AND DOLLS; KISS ME, KATE; KISMET; THE CHOCOLATE SOLDIER; THE MERRY WIDOW and many more. Mr. Gregg played opposite Eileen Heckart and Arlene Francis on two different occasions in THE TIME OF THE CUCKOO, from which DO I HEAR A WALTZ? was adapted.

Most recently, Mr. Gregg played the lead role of Emile in SOUTH PACIFIC at the Chateau de Ville Dinner Theatres in Boston and has just recently finished playing the lead role of Nicky Arnstein in FUNNY GIRL at the Playhouse on the Mall in Paramus, New Jersey.

HONEY SANDERS (Bloody Mary) has been seen in the role of Bloody Mary from coast to coast and in Honolulu, Hawaii. She made her debut in SHE SHALL HAVE MUSIC, which was written by Melody Top director Stuart Bishop.

Broadway audiences experienced Miss Sanders in 13 DAUGHTERS, THE ROSE TATTOO, MAME and THE EDUCATION OF HYMAN KAPLAN. Aside from numerous television commercials, Honey had a running role on "The Edge of Night," and appeared on the "U.S. Steel Hour," "American Musical Theatre," "Kraft Theatre," and most recently on "The Sandy Duncan Show."

Last summer, she toured with Lana Turner in 40 CARATS. Miss Sanders has three children aged 22, 24 and 25. She loves dogs and always travels with one. Her hobbies include cooking, needlepoint, people and life.

ROBERT DAGNY (Luther Billis) is no newcomer to the Melody Top stage, having appeared in IRMA LA DOUCE in 1968 and in CARNIVAL in 1969. His return brings us the talents of a many faceted performer: actor, singer and dancer. Robert appeared on Broadway in TALENT '65, toured with Ed Ames as the Father in THE FANTASTICKS, appeared off-Broadway in such notable shows as ALL IN LOVE and at the Tempo Theatre in Paris in OTHELLO and ANASTASIA.

Television made fine use of Mr. Dagny's talents as a member of Prince Street Players, WCBS Repertory Company and on various network presentations including "Aladdin," "Pinocchio" and "Studio One." He has a string of never-ending musical and dramatic successes ranging from Og in FINIAN'S RAINBOW to Biff in DEATH OF A SALESMAN.

Robert has many film credits, the most recent of which is THE ANDERSON TAPES starring Sean Connery. He is also no stranger to television and radio commercials, having endorsed such products as Tiparillo Menthol Cigars, Mobile Oil, Union 76 and General Telephone and Electric.

JOHN WITHAM (Lt. Joseph Cable) returns to Melody Top for his second appearance, having played the role of Caliph in KISMET with John Raitt in 1971. Since that time, John played Paul Revere, off Broadway, in TWO IF BY SEA, and was in the pre-Broadway tryout of COMEDY, playing the role of Elpino. In a recently released film, CHILD'S PLAY, John plays Father Norris.

A native of New Jersey, John is a 1967 scholarship graduate of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. His talent was also recognized by the U.S. Army, as he spent two years as "Entertainment Specialist" at Fort Lee, Virginia. In 1968, he was Grand Winner of the First U.S. Army Area Entertainment Contest.

John made extensive summer stock appearances on the East Coast in theatres from New Hampshire to Virginia. Last summer, he played Lt. Cable in SOUTH PACIFIC with Sylvia Syms, and the part of Freddy Hill in MY FAIR LADY, with Noel Harrison, for Chateau De Ville Dinner Theatres. His other credits include Billy Bigelow in CAROUSEL, Riff in WEST SIDE STORY, Curly in OKLAHOMA, Albert in BYE BYE BIRDIE, Frank Butler in ANNIE GET YOUR GUN and the title role in LI'L ABNER. Other notable stock credits include SHE LOVES ME; THE KING AND I; BELLS ARE RINGING; KISS ME, KATE; GYPSY; THE MUSIC MAN; A MAJORITY OF ONE; INVITATION TO A MARCH and THE CRUCIBLE.

Just prior to his 1971 Melody Top appearance, John played Dick Schiller in the pre-Broadway tryout of the Alan Jay Lerner/John Barry musical, LOLITA, MY LOVE.

RALSTON HILL (Capt. George Brackett) is a familiar face at Melody Top having appeared in this season's initial production, WEST SIDE STORY, as Schrank. Last season, he played the part of Harrison Howell in KISS ME, KATE; John Dickinson in 1776; Patrick Dennis in LITTLE ME; David in COMPANY and Dr. Garrasco in MAN OF LA MANCHA.

Ralston made his Broadway debut as Charles Thomson in 1776, a role in which he is presently seen in the film. He appeared off-Broadway as the villainous banker in the prize-winning musical THE STREETS OF NEW YORK. He was featured in the Lincoln Center revival of CAROUSEL in New York and on tour.

Among this other roles are the Cardinal in Sandy Wilson's VALMOUTH and the title role in THE CHANGELING. He toured with the National Repertory Theatre in JOHN BROWN'S BODY and THE COMEDY OF ERRORS, and appeared with the National Repertory Theatre in the re-opening of Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C. He also toured in productions of OLIVER! and CANDIDE.

This past season, Ralston co-starred with Vivian Blaine in I DO! I DO! at dinner theatres in Indianapolis and St. Louis.

He is a native of Oberlin, Ohio and a graduate of Oberlin College.

MICKEY CHERNEY (Cmdr. William Harbison) comes to Melody Top for his initial visit, but with a long and diversified list of theatrical credits.

Mickey appeared in featured roles in many of the finest musicals and straight plays and has shown his versatility in show business by directing stage productions as well as acting in films and performing in nightclubs.

Among his many acting credits are Nathan Detroit in GUYS AND DOLLS, Hines in THE PAJAMA GAME, Harrison Floy in HIGH BUTTON SHOES, Sammy Fong in FLOWER DRUM SONG, Marcellus in THE MUSIC MAN, Capt. Brackett in SOUTH PACIFIC, Fagin in OLIVER!, Prof. Warren in SPIRAL STAIRCASE and Noel Coward in TONIGHT AT 8:30.

Mickey directed productions of GUYS AND DOLLS, SOUTH PACIFIC, THE PAJAMA GAME and ANYTHING GOES. He appeared in many educational films, but his most notable role was in Columbia's THE STING, which starred Paul Newman and Robert Redford.

Mickey comes to Milwaukee from Chicago, where he is a prominent singer and comedian in many nightclubs.

JO SPEROS (Liat) entered her career in show business when, at age three, she began studying dance. She progressed from this embryonic stage to become a member of the Gus Giordano Dance Company at the young age of 13. With the dance company, she performed in Paris, at colleges and universities throughout the United States and filmed Emmy Award-winning television shows for the National Educational Television Network.

Jo appeared in many industrial motion pictures and TV commercials. Melody Top is indeed fortunate in having Jo as a member of the cast for all productions this summer.

Production Photos from SOUTH PACIFIC

South Pacific 1 South Pacific 2 South Pacific 3 South Pacific 4

SOUTH PACIFIC Cast of Characters

Ngana:Monique Vescio
Jerome:Anthony Vescio
Henry:Clyde Laurents
Ensign Nellie Forbush:Ann Blyth
Emile de Becque:Mitchell Gregg
Bloody Mary:Honey Sanders
Abner:Matthew Ingemie
Stewpot:Tedd Carrere
Luther Billis:Robert Dagny
Professor:Ralph Braun
Lt. Joseph Cable, USMC:John Witham
Capt. George Brackett, USN:Ralston Hill
Commdr. William Harbison, USN:Mickey Cherney
Yeoman Herbert Quale:Dan Ormond
Radio Operator, Bob McCaffrey:Ken Mitchell
Staff-Sgt. Thomas Hassinger:Dan Webber
Seabee Morton Wise:Robert de Angelis
Lt. Genevieve Marshall:Suzan Sidney
Ensign Connie Walewska:Jo Jean Retrum
Ensign Janet McGregor:Tracy Friedman
Ensign Pamela Whitmore:Joan Carvelle
Ensign Bessie Noonan:Didi Hitt
Ensign Dinah Murphy:Nancy McCloud
Ensign Sue Yaeger:Susan Rush
Liat:Jo Speros
Lt. Buzz Adams:Ray Favero

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