Hirschfeld theatre

 Located in Miami Beach, the Hirschfeld Theatre at the Castle Hotel was the brainchild of Abe Hirschfeld in 1982. It originally was the Playboy Hotel and the Jackie Gleason Theatre. It had no theatre seats (was set up for 8 top tables) and needed the audience to be sloped for seating. I called Eric Krebs in New Jersey and he had 500 theatre seats from a theatre in Pennsylvania that he could part with and we had them delivered and installed. But I digress!


How this all started was through Greg Thompson's agent, who I had worked with at Lily Langtry's. He called me and said that Greg was going to put a show in a new theatre and could I help set it up. I set up an appointment to meet with Abe Hirschfeld at the Vertical Club in New York. We talked and he said he wanted me to fly to Miami Beach to see the facility. We discussed fees and I flew there and scoped out the situation. I gave him my assessment and fee structure and he handed me fifteen $100 bills to "tied me over for the weekend".


This theatre had no box office, group sales, marketing plan or physical tickets to sell. It had no dinner theatre packages either. I met with the Chef, brought my assistant, John Green, down from New Jersey and started to get to work. We were opening with Greg Thompson's "Broadway Memories" just before New Years Eve. Our main competition was Julio Iglesias down the street at the Fountainebleu. 

 I went to see other performances and venues in the area. At several I saw this elderly gentleman who seemed to get a lot af attention from the theatre staffs and older patrons. After inquiring, I found out his name was Charles Skupsky and he would package group sales for the older clientle for $2.00 per ticket. I met him and asked him to breakfast the following morning (my treat).


We met at breakfast at the hotel and he was playing hardball! I told him about the new theatre and show coming in and he said that his amount of $2.00 was firm!
I was 27 at the time and I found at that Charles was 75. I took a sip of my coffee and slowly shook my head. I told Charles that I couldn't pay him $2.00 a ticket (then I smiled) but I could pay him $3.00 per ticket and give him an office at the hotel to work from with a watts line and a secretary. I walked him around the hotel, introduced him to Cristina, his secretary, and got him all set up. He sold out the opening week in less than ten days. 

 Abe Hirschfeld was a very unique individual. We constantly had to track him and his bodyguard down to get bills paid and decisions made. One morning around 3am I got a call from Abe in my hotel suite. He said "Maarrkk. I want second act first!" He seemed to get the idea that the show, which took you through Broadway numbers from the past up until "Dream Girls", would be better if we started with the big numbers in the second act first. I told him that we could talk about it over breakfast at 8am. It wasn't five minutes later that Greg Thompson calls me screaming into the phone about the lunatic Hirschfeld. He threatened to take his show (and all of the lighting equipment he invested in) and leave. I told him to meet me for breakfast at 7am and we would work out a plan.


That morning on my way to breakfast number one, I stopped in to see Charles. I told Charles I needed him to round up "for free" a group of ladies, at least 100, to come to a free preview matinee the day we were having our dress rehearsal. I also gave him special instructions for these guests to rave about the show during intermission but to complain how stupid it was to put older songs at the end of the show. I then went to my first breakfast with Greg and asked him to do second act first for the preview and I would guarantee that would be the last time he would have to do it. Consider it a rehearsal. then I met Abe at 8pm and told him that we would do what he wanted and it would be great for him to see it at the preview.
He agreed. 


 The day before the preview I met with the cast and explained it was all just a rehearsal with some of my friends and doing the acts backwards was no big thing. They were a great group of actors.


The preview came and it worked like clockwork. Abe and his bodyguard sat mid row and the ladies were some of the best actresses I have ever hired. They praised the show during intermission and Abe was beaming. After the show they complained so long and loud I was almost embarrassed for Abe. He came up to me and said "Maarrkk, put it back first act second!" That night I found a bottle of champagne in my room. He never admitted it but my guess would have been it was from Greg. 

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 David Landay and Larry Kasha were dynamic individuals who took
a chance on this young kid from Akron, Ohio and brought me on board
to help them with both "Seven Brides For Seven Brothers" with Debby Boone
and "Woman of the Year" with Lauren Bacall then Raquel Welch
and finally Debbie Reynolds.


I toured as advance man to San Diego's Fox Theatre, the Fifth Avenue Theatre in Seattle, the Arie Crown Theatre in Chicago and the Fisher Theatre in Detroit.  
 

 David Landay and Larry Kasha were dynamic individuals who took
a chance on this young kid from Akron, Ohio and brought me on board
to help them with both "Seven Brides For Seven Brothers" with Debby Boone
and "Woman of the Year" with Lauren Bacall then Raquel Welch
and finally Debbie Reynolds.


I toured as advance man to San Diego's Fox Theatre, the Fifth Avenue Theatre in Seattle, the Arie Crown Theatre in Chicago and the Fisher Theatre in Detroit.  
 

Kenley Players

 John Kenley had seen some of my handiwork at the Cabaret Dinner Theatre and approached me to come on board at Kenley Players as his Assistant Administrator. I would work with all of the stars, their A.E.A. contracts, lodging, autograph signings, etc. I said I would as long as I could perform in one of the shows that season and that I could still retain my position as Producer at the Cabaret Dinner Theatre and President of M&M Productions (the touring arm of Cabaret).
He agreed and I was in for a whirlwind season.
 


 There will only be one John Kenley to walk this earth and no one will ever replace this talented giant of Summer Stock theatre. John was unique in so many ways
but I will tell you that he had a wit and crazy charm that could win over anyone. He used to call me Whitey although he knew my name well, but it was this nickname because of my blonde hair that he found endearing. He also would say the strangest, sexually explicit things to just about anyone (he toned it down for Debby Boone) and constantly tried shocking me. After the first couple of weeks where I showed I was completely unfazed, he went onto easier targets.



I worked long hours in every department at E.J. Thomas for Kenley Players and occasionally bumped heads with Ethel, David and Jerry (the Kenley clan who would inherit the business), I really had kevlar skin and wasn't a threat as I was more interested in learning from the Master than taking over the realm. Because I was self motivated, and other than when John was in the office and I had to type Equity contracts, I was on my own to sell program ads, choreograph fight scenes and work with the new lighting board. It was a grand experience.   


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 Ken Berry (pictured above) was a terrific hoofer and our first star of the season. I have a wonderful memory of him standing for over an hour doing autographs after the show and a young girl in a wheel chair had the biggest crush on him and stayed, even though she had been first in line. He was gracious and had a gentle and patient soul. 

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 This was my first chance to meet David Landay and Larry Kasha of Kaslan Productions who were doing a pre-Broadway tryout of "Seven Brides For Seven Brothers" starring the marvelous and beautiful Debby Boone. A kinder soul has rarely walked the planet and she had an angelic voice. She sure could dance too!  

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 Robert Urich was larger than life to me. First he was a Lambda Chi so it made us fraternity brothers. Second, I watched him for hours with his wife Heather Menzies on stage and he was a perfectionist. He would go over a scene dozens of times to get the comedic timimg perfect. I couldn't absorb enough of his craft as he methodically went to work. He knew the "business" side of show. Heather was sweet and matched Robert step by step like in a fine dance routine. When
Vivian Blaine blew onstage it was like a small tornado. I kept replaying in my mind the scenes with Frank Sinatra in "Guys and Dolls". This was a terrific tribute to Neil Simon's play.  

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 Years later I would meet another FSU alumni and football player at Florida State University, BurtReynolds. I also ended up getting my
Masters at FSU. Small Theatre world! (Robert and Heather pictured above)

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 I was out doing a great deal of schmoozing for other shows when the Fifth Dimension was rehearsing so I didn't get to see the process but sure did enjoy the end result of them in "Ain't Misbehavin'". 

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 I negotiated a motorcycle from Rick Case Honda to be on display as a "Birdie Bike" and we had people going to their location to sign up for a contest to win it. There was no purchase necessary but they had to be at the wrap party at the end of the week's run to see if they won and pick it up. We sold out that Sunday performance before any other night and we had a lot of subscribers for Friday and Saturday.   

 "Cabaret" was the show I wanted! I sang for John and he said I was a good crooner but not "star" material. He told me that he had said the same thing to John Davidson years earlier. That he wasn't a "Robert Goulet". Davidson went out in the entertainment world, became a well known performer and came back to star in a Kenley show. I didn't have that luxury or time. John said he really liked my acting so he had me understudy Ernst and play bit parts like the Taxi Driver in the run. I also danced in the routines and lifted Billy Crystal up on a chair. And, I was the only one who could really whistle and had the solo in "Tomorrow Belongs To Me". All of this and still doing my daily duties as John's Assistant Administrator.


Billy actually wasn't the headliner. It was Donna McKechnie from "A Chorus Line" She was very gracious and threw a lavish cast party. Billy was very serious backstage and totally focused. His wife Janice was in the kissing couple sequence and she was fantastic. 

 I don't know where the original Kenley program went to but I will use
this one for now. This show starred Don Ameche and Fred Grandy, Gopher
from "The Love Boat". I had a breakfast meeting with Don Ameche and
Peter Bellamy of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Peter was interviewing
Don Ameche for an opening week article. It was all that I could do but burst out laughing as the interview progressed from someone who at 7:30am smelled like a brewery (more like whiskey) who asked questions of
this talented gentleman of stage and screen. Heck, I remember watching
Don Ameche as Alexander Graham Bell (re-run on T.V. - I'm not that old).
Mr. Ameche just continued on as if the odor and slurring were not noticeable
and I have to admit that Peter's article was a gem.


Another memory I had of this show was when I told John that I had
his set taken care of (I received $10,000.00 worth of office equipment
donated for a backstage pass to meet the stars of the show).

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 "The Music Man" originally was to star Gavin MacLeod, Captain of "The Love Boat" but we got a call that he had broke his leg and Dick Gautier was hired to replace him. He did a great job! 

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 "The Greenwich Village Scandals of 1923" was John's big show of the season. He spoke of it all the time despite what show we were working on. This was a show where he brought in Imogene Coca, Cyd Charisse and Rip Taylor. 

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 Imogene was a delight. She couldn't see very well due to a car accident she had been in so we had glow tape everywhere for her to use. Funny and gracious, I had a chance to meet up with her later at the American Stage Company where she had come to see a production. 

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 I didn't have a lot of interaction with Cyd Charisse. I remember thinking
what great legs she still had. She stumbled over a dancer on opening night who was laying on the floor but she recovered nicely. 

 OK. I picked up most of the stars at Cleveland Hopkins airport and would
drive them to Akron to the Quaker Square Hilton. Most were wonderful conversations and I would fill them in about the theatre, the town and sometimes about John. Picking up Rip Taylor was like the first time on a roller coaster.


When I first met Rip Taylor as he came off the plane, he handed me a
brown paper bag and in a very loud and theatrical voice said
"Here you go My Boy!" and spotting a magazine store that sold candy,
he strode right to it. He bought several pounds of hard candy and
asked for the brown bag. Inside were crumpled up twenty dollar bills.
He grabbed several and threw them on the counter saying to
"Keep the change!" I then followed him out as he rushed to
the escalator throwing hard candy everywhere yelling
"Here you go!"


After getting his luggage loaded, we paraded to the car with Rip talking with everyone he could. On the trip to Akron, he kept asking me if I could get taps put on his tap shoes. I said that it would be my mission in life and he made me laugh the whole way from Cleveland to Akron. When he got settled in his room, I went off to get new taps. 


When the season was over, I went on to mount "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" one last time at the Akron Civic Theatre. It was on Halloween that John came to see it and the was the last time I would see him. After the show I headed to Beverly Hills to work for Kaslan Productions.


The one thing that always stuck with me that John said about producing
was "You always want to get your stars on the way up or on the way down,
but never at their peak! It keeps the budget in line." There never will be anyone quite like John Kenley.
 

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 I graduated Garfield High School in 1973 and went to Mansfield for the summer to
work at my Father's Holiday Inn. I enrolled at the University of Akron and moved back to Akron, joined Lambda Chi Alpha (Gamma 1066), worked weeknights from 11pm to 7am cleaning University Buildings (free tuition). I moved into the Lambda Chi house for a couple of semesters and did three mainstage productions. 

"No Place To Be Somebody" was a Pulitzer Prize winning play. It had strong language and adult themes and I remember my Grandmother Marple saying that I was a good actor because she couldn't picture me ever doing or saying the things I did on stage and she didn't recognize me. She also said
I should pick a comedy or musical next. 


 "Johnny No Trump" was a one day wonder on Broadway. This story about a
young 16 year old who is dealing with wanting to leave school and becoming a poet against his school teacher Mother's wishes and sharing moments with his Uncle, was a good acting exercise for me.  


 Playing Peter van Daan in the "Diary of Anne Frank" was my final role at the University of Akron. It had a strong cast and was one of the best shows I had been in up to that time.