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

Please use the contact information page to submit memories about the theatre, its productions and performers, or any other recollections from those wonderful summers of live musical theatre. General comments are always welcome, but only the most specific, detailed and honest accounts of Melody Top will be posted. Comments will not be posted without the author's approval, as personal privacy is always a strict concern on this site. Keeping this site active is a "labor of love," and its goal is to enlighten younger generations with stories about summer stock theatre.

Melody Top Ad Caricatures

A collection of amusing caricatures from Melody Top newspaper advertisements, from top left to right: Arte Johnson in FINIAN'S RAINBOW (1974), Stubby Kaye in 1776 (1972), Jane Powell in MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1971), John Raitt in KISMET (1971) and Van Johnson in DAMN YANKEES (1971).

Reflections from a 24-Season Subscriber to Melody Top Theatre

The memories on this page from the theatre's twenty-four seasons are by Christine, who currently resides in Franklin, Wisconsin. She provided the following introduction to those who sent appreciative remarks about her recollections of so many musicals:

"When I was six or seven, my parents took me to the movie of CALL ME MADAM, which starred Ethel Merman. This was totally unlike any musical movie or star I had ever seen, and I knew at once that this would be my favorite kind of entertainment. Throughout my childhood, I sought out show albums, soaked up theatre excerpts presented on TV by Ed Sullivan and dreamed of one day seeing Broadway shows. When I was fifteen, my military family settled in Milwaukee, and I finally saw my first, live professional production. It was THE MUSIC MAN with Forrest Tucker, at the magnificent Pabst Theatre. I was hooked forever! A year or two later, I was so excited when Melody Top opened. With season seats, I saw all but four or five of the shows presented in The Top's twenty-four seasons. Melody Top exposed me to many of the great works of musical theatre and to a host of fine stage professionals. It developed my taste and whetted my appetite for more. I had a fulfilling career as an English teacher and never had anything to do with creating any stage productions, amateur or professional; but, nevertheless, the theatre has been and continues to be a major part of my life. If an attentive, appreciative and (I hope) percertive audience is an essential part of the theatre, I guess I am a part of that world. It is certainly part of me, and Melody Top was a major factor in giving me this gift of enduring satisfaction and joy — and a seemingly endless supply of wonderful and enjoyable memories!"

Season One Memories (1963)


Melody Top’s very first production (the MacRaes in GUYS AND DOLLS) started more than an hour late the night we were there. Sheila, dressed in rehearsal clothes, arrived on stage and did a series of impressions after explaining that Gordon disappeared. The theatre’s staff was searching for him. Eventually, we were told he had been found sizing up horses at the polo field next door. However, he was not feeling well and the audience was asked if there was a doctor in the house. Someone volunteered to see him, and the show went on a little later with Gordon seeming okay. I still wonder if we got the real story about his disappearance that evening!

Season Two Memories (1964)


Although Martha Raye may not have been the right age to portray the lead in WILDCAT, she was excellent anyway. She was very funny, with a terrific, jazzy singing voice! From the very beginning, the stars at Melody Top almost always gave curtain speeches. Hers suggested she was spending some off-stage time in the bar at the Inn America Motel and Restaurant on 62nd and Fond du Lac! She was visiting the troops in Vietnam around this time and contacted some of their families while in town.

Legendary character actor Edward Everett Horton, performing in 1964's ROBERTA, was in his seventies, and local newspapers made much of the fact he still played tennis every day with an opponent provided by the theatre. One reporter went along to observe a set or two and later learned the opponent's job was to hit the ball directly to Horton so he wouldn't have to move any part of his body except his racket arm!

LITTLE ME in 1964 was one of the most entertaining shows ever produced at Melody Top! Karen Morrow was absolutely terrific in this show, as she was in all her other local appearances. Gabriel Dell gave one of the best comedy performances I have ever seen. NOTE: An extremely funny and tuneful musical, LITTLE ME was always popular with Milwaukee audiences. It was revived at Melody Top in 1972 (with Karen Morrow) and 1983. Milwaukee’s Skylight Opera Theatre also produced the show in 1985.

Melody Top audiences routinely gave standing ovations to all performances. This was before they also became habitual and meaningless in New York or anywhere else, so Milwaukee may have started this lamentable trend. After curtain calls and the usual standing ovation for MR. PRESIDENT, Bert Parks always sang the "Miss America" theme song to someone in the audience, usually an elderly lady. We had first row season seats, and he sang it to my grandmother (a good sport who was mortified).

Season Three Memories (1965)


BELLS ARE RINGING was the first time I really heard Mimi Hines sing, and she had an incredibly big, belting alto voice. She was a decent actress and an excellent comic!

Season Four Memories (1966)


Chita Rivera in FLOWER DRUM SONG certainly was weird casting, but she was absolutely great! She sweated off her unconvincing Asian make-up during the first dance number. (Remember, there was no air conditioning at Melody Top!) Someone pinned a long braid to the back of her short hair, and it kept getting loose and doing peculiar things. Chita ripped it off and threw it into the audience during another number, to great applause from the crowd! NOTE: This was Chita’s first appearance in Milwaukee, and she later returned to play the lead in Melody Top’s IRMA LA DOUCE.

Margaret Whiting had one of the most gorgeous pop voices I ever heard at The Top. At the time, the theatre had only a few microphones hanging from the lighting grid. Body mikes were not commonly used in the 1960s. Some featured singers obviously jockeyed around to get under a mike for their numbers. Audience members in the back often complained they could not hear the performance (which was not solved by the wooden dome). This was not the case during CALL ME MADAM. Whiting had this absolutely beautiful, full-bodied sound that just floated up and filled the entire tent.

I was not there for the skunk incidents (at least two, I heard), but GYPSY provided another wildlife adventure in addition to the usual mosquitos. During quite a bit of the performance a field mouse, determined to improve his fitness level, kept running circuits around the foot room of the first row. Sometimes it was in front of our feet. Once it ran over mine! The mouse would stop for a while and then start up again after getting a second wind. No one screamed or ran out of the tent, but everybody jumped in sequence as the critter made his rounds. It was a little like seeing a stadium crowd doing "the wave," but without all the arm action! The actors did a normal performance. But during her obligatory curtain speech, Janis Paige asked what the heck was going on in the first row. Several people said there was a mouse in the theatre, and she quickly replied, "What's the big deal? All theatres have mice. We make pets of 'em!"

Flower Drum Song

Ed Wilson's impression of FLOWER DRUM SONG, printed in The Milwaukee Journal (July 17, 1966).

Season Five Memories (1967)


I saw the original production of SWEET CHARITY on Broadway the previous summer. For some unknown reason, I have always had a good eye for choreography and saw immediately that Melody Top hired a remarkably gifted choreographer in Tommy Tune. I checked the program for his name at intermission. There were certainly numbers similar to the Bob Fosse originals, but Tune also did some wonderfully original moves and made especially effective use of the vast arena stage. I have not seen any other choreography work so well in-the-round. Gretchen Wyler, who also appeared in other productions of the same show with Fosse's choreography, said in her curtain speech that we should remember Tune's name because he is a major talent who would do major shows in the theatre. All of his work - seven musicals that season - was great!

THE BOY FRIEND was Tune's only featured role that season, although I am sure he did some dancing appearances in other shows. He usually paired himself with the shortest girl dancer to good comic effect. Of course, he would have towered over any of the potential partners and probably just decided to make the most of the disparity in height. This show and CHARITY were the choreographic stand-outs of the season. Riots in the inner city during the run of this show forced leaders to issue a city-wide curfew. Melody Top did not cancel any performances that summer. The shows went on as planned, with earlier curtain times allowing patrons to return home on time.

Forrest Tucker starred in the national company of THE MUSIC MAN, which was my first professional Broadway musical. His leading lady in CLEAR DAY was Rita Gardner, who had been the original girl in the off-Broadway production of THE FANTASTICKS. He brought her out during his curtain call and introduced her as a major Broadway star of tomorrow. Even if his sincere prediction did not come true, she certainly had a wonderful career with an impressive list of both Broadway and regional credits!

What a thrill to see John Raitt recreate his Broadway role in CAROUSEL! His voice was in great shape, and he had terrific charm and on-stage presence; a true star. After two big hits in New York, he worked steadily on tour and in summer stock, for many years and in a series of classic shows. The first few times he played Milwaukee, there would be a short item in the paper asking whether anyone had a nearby lake cottage he could rent for his stay. He wanted a healthy, outdoorsy place to stay with his children (including, presumably, his daughter Bonnie Raitt). In his curtain speech, he always announced he would be available to sign autographs after the show.

Season Six Memories (1968)


Chita Rivera was a perfect star for the dance-heavy title role of IRMA LA DOUCE, but she sustained a serious injury to her foot or ankle early in the run. The event was covered heavily in the local newspapers. Thus, her dancing was curtailed. I have recollections of the chorus dancing around her while she struck poses and of her being taken offstage for the dance portions of numbers and being brought back to the stage at the end of them. Her singing and acting were impeccable, and I have a clear image of her on a high platform, bracing herself on a bar while suggesting dance moves with her feet. The show went on, and I am sure no one in the audience felt shortchanged.

If I were to list the dozen most memorable vocal performances at Melody Top, one of them would certainly be Margaret Whiting's glorious rendition of the classic tune "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" when she played Vera Simpson in PAL JOEY.

Season Seven Memories (1969)


In GREASEPAINT, Mimi Hines played the Anthony Newley part. She did not play it as a woman. The character was a kind of stylized clown or tramp (named Cocky) who starts out as a badly treated employee of a comically insensitive rich man (Phil Ford). There was a very limited, innocent romance with a girl in the plot. It all worked okay for me. In an interview, Mimi said she learned to sing by singing along with opera records on the family phonograph and that she could sing tenor. She could and did!

Season Eight Memories (1970)


Tommy Tune was terrific as the Master of Ceremonies in CABARET! He was creepy and slimy. It was totally unlike anything else I've ever seen him do. Although James Smock choreographed this production, I'm sure Tommy was involved in creating his numbers. The M.C.'s songs were both unusually staged and perfect for the sleazy milieu in which they were set (a decadent nightclub in 1930s Berlin, Germany).

Season Nine Memories (1971)


Dorothy Lamour played the lead in HELLO, DOLLY! on the road a few years before coming to Melody Top. After the title number, Dolly always sits down hard at her table in the Harmonia Gardens restaurant (on the final beat from the orchestra). When Dorothy did it, no dialogue followed. I thought she forgot her line; but after a more-than-dramatic pause, she said, "My zipper broke!" Indeed, the whole length of the zipper in her red gown had opened. Her dresser came down to the stage with a mouthful of large safety pins. As the dresser labored, Dorothy said she was glad Bob Hope wasn't there to comment on the situation! She did the rest of the scene with some extra embellishment on the back of her dress, to great applause from the crowd.

Elaine Cancilla was Lola in 1971’s DAMN YANKEES. She made many appearances at Melody Top and was always great! She was a vibrant and strong theatre dancer who had worked a number of times on Broadway with Bob Fosse. She had a long and extraordinary marriage to Broadway leading man (and LAW AND ORDER detective) Jerry Orbach, and he said in an interview that he came to Milwaukee with Elaine when she worked here. What a shame he never appeared in a production at Melody Top!

Season Ten Memories (1972)


Ann Blyth is an excellent actress with a lovely singing voice, but I'll never forget she played a novice nun in THE SOUND OF MUSIC with long, professionally manicured fingernails! One of my students at the time was her dresser and said that she was never seen in less than full make-up and was an extremely nice, motherly woman.

I always loved Gretchen Wyler, who was excellent in all her other appearances at The Top. But she did something really strange in COMPANY. In general, she was a very good Joanne. For her big number, "The Ladies Who Lunch," she wore a floor-length, backless, flowing, canary yellow gown! The hard-edged character is usually dressed in conservative black for an afternoon of cocktails. At the end of the song, someone put together a dance arrangement of the melody, and she did a fluid, seductive dance all over the stage! I somehow suspect these were not directorial choices. In her curtain speech, Gretchen seemed almost apologetic about the show and said she didn't think she'd worked all those years just to be back in the chorus. She must have felt she needed to do more in order to stand out as the star of this brilliant ensemble piece.

This season's production of MAN OF LA MANCHA was the one for which Howard Keel was originally announced. He got an offer to reprise his West End (London) role in the Broadway production of AMBASSADOR and bought his way out of the Melody Top contract. Like so many other venues, the women's restroom facilities were inadequate at The Top. Management used the buy-out money to expand the facilities. I read or heard many on staff then called it the Howard Keel Memorial Bathroom! NOTE: Earl Wrightson, without Lois Hunt, replaced Howard in MAN OF LA MANCHA. Marilyn Child performed as Aldonza. Earl appeared earlier this season in KISS ME, KATE, and this was the first and only time a "headlining" star appeared twice in the same summer.

Season Eleven Memories (1973)


It was well publicized that Gretchen Wyler suffered a serious ankle injury a few weeks before doing APPLAUSE at The Top. I remember her ankle being wrapped; but I have no memory of her working seated to any great extent, which is testimony to the strength of her performance. It certainly helped Gretchen that Margo Channing is not a heavy dance role, and that the choreography for the part is easily limited or cut.

Local children were cast in THE MUSIC MAN, and they were as big a hit as usual in this production. Van Johnson was always an adept and likable performer at Melody Top, and he was an energetic, dynamic and romantic Harold Hill in THE MUSIC MAN. Van started as a chorus dancer on Broadway, and his early days on stage certainly paid off here. My mother, and probably every other woman in the audience who came to maturity in the forties, went a little weak at the knees whenever he was onstage. He was a major heartthrob in his day and starred in every kind of movie (not just musicals). That magnetism was still there; and, yes, he always wore the red socks!

Season Twelve Memories (1974)


Jo Anne Worley (Winnifred in ONCE UPON A MATTRESS) and Leonard Nimoy (The King of Siam in THE KING AND I) showed what excellent stage actors they are. Both were so associated with their television work that they probably never got the stage opportunities they deserved, but their "small screen" fame got them summer stock jobs which enabled people like me to see how skilled and magnetic they are!

Season Thirteen Memories (1975)


I was crazy about the original Broadway production of FOLLIES and saw it two times. The performance that impressed me the most was given by Dorothy Collins, whom I've always felt didn't get enough credit for what her acting and singing accomplished in that show. When she did GOOD NEWS at Melody Top, it was the first show of the season. For quite a few years, The Top would have an open rehearsal on the Sunday afternoon before the first show opened, and I turned up at the one for GOOD NEWS with my souvenir program from FOLLIES. The stars didn't always appear at these open rehearsals. When they did, they weren't always willing to meet patrons or give autographs; but Dorothy was there and announced she'd be available near the dressing rooms. When I showed her my program, she looked as thrilled and excited to see it as I was to see her. She looked surprised and enthusiatically said, "You saw it!" I said, "Twice! And it and you were wonderful." I got her autograph and the impression I made her day by evoking memories of what was probably the highlight of her career.

Karen Morrow was absolutely the best non-Ethel Merman Annie Oakley I ever saw in ANNIE GET YOUR GUN! What an incredibly dynamic and vibrant voice, and she was extremely funny in the comedy scenes. Plus she had a powerhouse partner in John Raitt as her leading man. They appeared together in a Broadway musical (A JOYFUL NOISE) and worked together beautifully at Melody Top. It couldn't have been better!

BITTER SWEET, an operetta by Noel Coward, was charming, as was Ann Blyth when I encountered her over a table of sale items in Marshall Field's at Mayfair Mall the day after I saw her performance. I encountered famous people in public places before and never spoke to them. But I couldn't resist telling her I didn't want to bother her when she was shopping, but I had to say how much I enjoyed her performance the previous evening. I immediately took off, only to hear her yelling after me, "That's no bother!"

Season Fourteen Memories (1976)


Leonard Nimoy was an excellent Henry Higgins in MY FAIR LADY with a fine, consistent English accent, again showing he could be a lot more than Spock from STAR TREK. His Eliza, Linda Michele, performed at The Top several times and always displayed a "loverly" lyric soprano and a charming stage presence. She appeared a couple of times with John Raitt, and together they made a very effective team.

A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC on Broadway was sublime, and I saw it six times! Melody Top did a creditable job with it. Earl Wrightson was always in good voice and always effective as an actor. He was very good in this production. Melody Top regular Susan Rush was a brilliant Petra, and she did an amazing job with Sondheim's tricky "The Miller's Son." All I remember about Lois Hunt was some physical comedy she played in the scene where she's in her boudoir before Fredrik enters, reveals that he loves his young wife and leaves her singing "Send in the Clowns." It seemed an odd start for the sad, rueful scene; but she did get laughs. I have no memory of Zoya Leporska as Madame Armfeldt, which embarrasses me a bit, because I still have the playbill and see that she had a remarkable resume which suggests she was a gifted performer. Holland Taylor, who went on to big TV success, was a bitter, but touching Charlotte.

Earl Wrightson and Lois Hunt

A pencil sketch of Earl Wrightson and Lois Hunt from the program cover for CAMELOT (1965).

Season Fifteen Memories (1977)


After the run of BYE BYE BIRDIE with Lucie Arnaz, the local newspaper revealed her mother was in town to see her and stayed completely under the radar. I have no idea how Lucille Ball could stay under the radar, but she did. Lucille Ball would return to Milwaukee in 1983 to see her son (Desi Jr.) perform in PROMISES, PROMISES.

The Broadway production of FOLLIES was a great favorite of mine, and I was beyond excited to see it at Melody Top, with Dorothy Collins recreating her performance as Sally. Her song arrangements were altered to eliminate the demanding higher passages; but her lower, and better known, range was extremely effective, as was her acting. There were some Broadway-quality performances at the Top, and this was one of them! In New York, the original production was done without an intermission. Later productions have tried having one in different places. At Melody Top, it was after "Too Many Mornings." I think the second act started with the performers replicating the final poses of act one. All the ghost characters wore identical, simple costumes in gray, with hats and other accessories to indicate the individuals they represented. It was an impressive production done with very limited resources. This show was also the scene of an extremely embarrassing incident for me. During the first act, I suddenly became very ill with what I guess was food poisoning and had to make a swift exit to the Howard Keel Memorial Ladies' Room. This was the only time, in all my years of theatre-going, an illness overtook me while attending a performance, and I was mortified. I took what I hoped was a lull to turn into the aisle from my first-row seat, only to feel a hot spotlight hit my back. I looked up and saw Dorothy Collins and Anne Jeffreys coming down the aisle doing a scene, speaking dialogue. As I rushed past, my green face probably blushing, Dorothy looked disconcerted and Anne looked...well, if looks could kill, I would be dead! Later, I was able to crawl to a vacant seat in the last row for most of the second act, while my companion wondered what became of me. The next week, I got a single seat and saw the entire show.

THE WIZARD OF OZ was delightful. Local children played the Munchkins, and their relatives in the audience were a little like the parents at the final concert in THE MUSIC MAN. Melody Top pretty much used the MGM film script, and the music included a lot of the recognizable underscoring from the film. Nancy Kulp, who played the Wicked Witch of the West (in bright green sneakers) was late for her curtain call. When she appeared, she was carrying her witch hat and had already wiped off most of her green make-up. She started her curtain speech by saying a child was taken outside the theatre after being frightened to the point hysteria by her character. You could tell Nancy was still upset by the incident. She said she was trying to help calm the child by showing it was all make-believe and she was really just a regular human being.

Season Sixteen Memories (1978)


Nancy Dussault was enjoyable as PETER PAN. It was remarkable to see that they managed some flying, and I would love to hear Nancy's recollection of it. It looked very tricky. "Flying by Foy," the company responsible for effects in every Broadway production of this timeless musical, is credited in the playbill. Melody Top didn't just have the "swinging" type of flight. Instead, Peter got hooked on a kind of track and flew around the perimeter of the stage. From my first row seat, it all looked like a kind of "Rube Goldberg" contraption; but I suspect the mechanics of it were less evident from more distant seats. As I recall, the biggest problem was getting Peter connected to the wires. With The Top's arena stage, Nancy couldn't duck behind a curtain while a stagehand did the job. I vaguely remember some clever tricks used to solve the problem, including, I think, stagehands hidden in some larger pieces of scenery.

Gene Barry was a highly competent leading man in ON A CLEAR DAY. He didn't have a voice like John Cullum in the original Broadway cast, but he was very good. This was the first time I heard him sing, so I wasn't surprised when he was able to handle LA CAGE AUX FOLLES on Broadway a few years later. Joy Garrett, a pretty blonde with a big voice and good dancing ability, was his leading lady. In an earlier production at Melody Top, the newspapers reported Gower Champion was in town to see her because he was considering her for the female lead in Broadway's SUGAR. She didn't get that part, but her work at The Top suggested to me she would have been great!

Season Seventeen Memories (1979)


Broadway veteran Nanette Fabray was very good in CALL ME MADAM, but the songs were originally written for Ethel Merman. Nanette didn't have that type of belting voice, and a local critic mentioned that Ethel's strong notes tended to be Nanette's weak ones. Someone, possibly the producer, wrote an angry letter to both Melody Top patrons and the daily newspapers, saying that this was why it was difficult to get big stars to do summer stock in places like Milwaukee. NOTE: Responses to the harsh review of CALL ME MADAM were published in both Milwaukee newspapers. Please click on the following links for more information about this media storm: Critique Inspires Reader Critics and Tent Theatre Boss Urged Patrons to Pan Review.

LULLABY OF BROADWAY was certainly an enjoyable evening, but I don't think there was much chance of it getting to Broadway.

Season Eighteen Memories (1980)


THE WIZ was certainly a pleasure. Irene Cara had a nice, light soulful voice and conveyed the innocense of Dorothy. However, the most memorable moment was the flying monkey dance solo. It was very demanding, with loads of leaps and extreme extensions. The dancer did the choreography full justice, but his costume included very brief, tight spandex shorts. By the time he finished a couple of those moves, he had given himself an extreme "wedgie" and had to do the rest of the number that way. After all, a flying monkey wouldn't take the time to adjust his dance trunks!

WHERE'S CHARLEY?, based on CHARLEY'S AUNT, was a rather peculiar production. Eddie Mekka was an athletic and powerful dancer at the time, kind of in the style of Gene Kelly. But his personality and acting were earthy American, much like his work on TV, and he didn't really fit the nineteenth century English university setting. Kitty Carlisle behaved as if she were in another show. She used the speaking and behavioral style usually seen in operettas, sashaying around the stage and waving a feather fan. It fit the character, but didn't quite mesh with the rest of the production.

CHICAGO was a lot of fun! Louisa Flaningam, who played Velma, was one of the best featured dance stars ever to play The Top. April Shawhan, whom I saw and liked on Broadway in OVER HERE!, was excellent at the acting and comedy required of Roxie, but her dancing was a bit limited and was soft-pedaled in this production. Robert Mandan was a detestable Billy Flynn. And we wouldn't want a Billy any other way!

Jo Anne Worley was simply terrific in HELLO, DOLLY! She was the original standby (but never got to go on) for Carol Channing in the Broadway production of this hit musical, and she brought all the energy and ability she didn't get to use back in the 1960s to this well-received production. She really nailed it, her Mrs. Dolly Levi!

Jack Gilford was a wonderful performer whose work I enjoyed on other occasions; but I don't really remember him in THE STUDENT PRINCE. The leads, however, were luminous — especially Sarah Rice, who was the original Johanna in SWEENEY TODD.

Season Nineteen Memories (1981)


Mimi Hines played Fanny in FUNNY GIRL for quite a while after Barbra Streisand left the show in New York, and some thought she was better in the role than its orginator. I didn't see her in New York, but her Milwaukee performance suggested they might have had a point. She was hilarious, poignant, and sang the heck out of those songs!

Yes, Barry Williams rode a live horse in an aisle and on stage during OKLAHOMA! No, the horse did not misbehave. Barry was an outstanding Curly, one of the few I've seen who really embodied the youth that the character should have. Curly is usually played by mature leading men who have a little more trouble conveying the brash young cowboy. Barry didn't have a big "John Raitt, Alfred Drake" kind of voice; but his singing was solid and did the job. He was good in all the shows he did at Melody Top and really tried hard to break away from his TV personna. Unfortunately, that can be very difficult to do. At intermission, I heard a woman say she was shocked to see he'd grown up. For some people, actors aren't allowed to mature like the rest of us.

Louisa Flaningam was excellent as the Master of Ceremonies (a.k.a. "Emcee" and "M.C.") in CABARET. She wore men's clothes (a fitted tuxedo), but played the character as a woman — a corrupt, frightening woman — which worked perfectly fine.

Accompanied by backup dancers and a couple of specialty acts, Debbie Reynolds basically did her nightclub act, which I had previously seen in Las Vegas. She sang, danced, told jokes and generally worked her behind off for, sadly, a very small crowd in this post-season attraction. Debbie is still a real trouper — and a true entertainer!

Season Twenty Memories (1982)


John Raitt's last appearance at Melody Top was as Cesar, the father of Marius, in FANNY. It was an ideal role for this point in his career. He let his hair go white and, to me, was handsomer than ever. As always, he offered to meet audience members and to sign autographs after the show. A classy and elegant gentleman to the end.

Season Twenty-One Memories (1983)


Desi Arnaz, Jr. was exemplary in an wonderful production of PROMISES, PROMISES. This show delivered plenty of good laughs for the audience, but there was one exceedingly loud, familiar laugh which always floated above the noise from the crowd. I took a walk around the tent at intermission and, sure enough, there was Desi Arnaz, Sr. coming out of one of the bar tents. The famous Cuban wore a white suit, white Panama hat, and a look suggesting the drink he held in his hand might not have been his first of the evening. Although everyone seemed to recognize him, he looked like he didn't want to be approached. I didn't see anyone try it. I wonder how it felt to Desi Jr. to hear his father's loud, encouraging laugh throughout the show. After the run of the show ended, the newspapers reported his mother, Lucille Ball, also came to town to see her son's performance, but managed to stay under the radar as she did when she came to see Lucie a few years earlier. That seems like such a difficult task for so famous a woman to pull off; but, for starters, she probably had a quieter laugh than her ex-husband! NOTE: Producer Guy S. Little, Jr. confirmed to the webmaster that Desi Jr.'s parents attended separate performances of this show. He confirmed picking them up from the airport on different days, and he also drove them through the city.

Season Twenty-Two Memories (1984)


Of the three Melody Top productions of GYPSY, this season's was definitely the best, mainly because of the dynamic Rose of Jo Anne Worley. Rose's songs are extremely demanding and have caused vocal problems for many actresses over the years, including Ethel Merman. But Jo Anne's voice was perfect for them, and she showed no signs of vocal or physical strain. What a magnificent finale to her Melody Top career!

In his curtain speech after SHOW BOAT, Eddie Bracken, who was a very effective and lovable Captain Andy, talked almost entirely about incidents involving Ronald Reagan during their years together working at Warner Brothers Studio in Burbank, California.

Someone who was announced for Miss Mona in THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE cancelled, and Fannie Flagg was hired. I knew her only from game and talk shows on TV and was skeptical of her ability to handle the show, but she was a fabulous surprise — just about perfect in the part! She wasn't the strongest singer, but the songs in the role aren't very demanding. Her acting, comedic timing, and even her Southern accent were great. Just another of the lovely surprises I got at Melody Top!

Season Twenty-Three Memories (1985)


Christine Ebersole's mesmerizing, versitile voice was perfect for the demanding score of EVITA. This show was tricky to do "in-the-round," but Melody Top did a generally good job with it. They definitely tried to match many aspects of the Broadway staging in this very different physical environment. The original production had a huge screen which showed slides and newsreel footage of the real Evita Peron as various parts of her life were treated on stage. Melody Top tried to replicate this with screens hanging from the lighting grid. I was disappointed that I couldn't really see them very well from my front row seat. The strong light from late summer sunsets showed through the canvas sides of the auditorium and didn't help with visibility of the screens.

Season Twenty-Four Memories (1986)


Attendance had been slowing down for several seasons, and this year's abbreviated season without bigger name actors probably reflected that downturn.

SHE LOVES ME is such a delightful show, and Melody Top did it justice. Norman Moses and Mary Ernster are local favorites who were attractive in their roles. Moses also played this lead in another production of the show at Milwaukee's Skylight Opera.

SOMETHING'S AFOOT is a very funny musical spoof of Agatha Christie's mysteries. Mary Jo Catlett was the amateur detective, kind of based on Miss Marple, who solves a string of amusingly staged murders at a big country house. The staging of some of the murders was a challenge "in- the-round." You can't have weapons appearing through holes in the walls when there are no walls! It was still a very entertaining show. Mary Jo, who was the original Ernestina in Broadway's HELLO, DOLLY!, had a very solid voice and was hilarious in the part. She now does a lot of voice-over work, including cartoon voices like Mrs. Puff on the SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS show.

Season Twenty-Five Memories (1987)


Of course, there aren't any. What a great season they announced, and what a pity it never happened!

Melody Top Theatre Sketch

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