Tag Archives: “Oklahoma!”

Friday Flashback #140

As the Westport Country Playhouse opens its 89th season, “06880” shines a spotlight on its famed posters.

For decades, they hung on the walls of its cramped lobby. After the renovation more than a decade ago, a few dozen found spots in the new lobby. All told, there are 400 in posters in the Playhouse collection.

Pat Blaufuss sent along a sampling. Each has a story behind it. Text comes from An American Theatre: The Story of Westport Country Playhouse by Richard Somerset-Ward.

It was 1940 and the Playhouse was doing Green Grow the Lilacs. John Ford had agreed to direct the show but was detained by film commitments, and never showed up (though his name was on the poster). Actual direction was handled by John Haggott who followed ideas he and Ford put together earlier in Hollywood.

Teresa Helburn, a Theatre Guild colleague of Lawrence Langner, Playhouse founder, came backstage on opening night and said: “This play would make a good musical.” They invited Fairfield resident Richard Rodgers. He was inspired to turn the play into the musical Oklahoma! with Oscar Hammerstein.

In 1941 Tyrone Power was the crown prince of Hollywood, dashingly handsome, married to a beautiful French woman named Annabella.

Tyrone was born in Connecticut; his earliest acting jobs had been in summer stock in Massachusetts. He was immersed in film roles, under contract to 20th Century Fox, but longed to get back to the stage. He couldn’t take extended runs because of his movie contract, but he might find time to do summer stock.

Darryl Zanuck, his boss, thwarted his first attempts, but in 1941 Tyrone and Annabella successfully escaped to Westport to star in Liliom, which became the source for the musical Carousel. It was directed by Lee Strasberg.

Power said: “Here in Westport there’s nothing of the huge, inhuman machine atmosphere that dominates Hollywood.” On opening night the Powerses took a dozen-and-a-half curtain calls.

But there almost wasn’t an opening night. A few days before opening, Zanuck sent a cable demanding that Power fly back to Hollywood for urgent re-shoots on the film he had recently made with Betty Grable, A Yank in the RAF.

It seemed that Tyrone had no option – his contract made it clear that the studio owned him. But Playhouse lawyer J. Kenneth Bradley came up with an old Connecticut blue law which enabled the local authorities to prevent a person from leaving the state if he tried to do so before fulfilling a contract with a Connecticut business.

Zanuck was informed that Connecticut stood ready to enforce its law. He caved, and Power stayed for the sold-out run.

Olivia de Havilland, so popular from the film Gone with the Wind, was in the Playhouse production of What Every Woman Knows in 1946.

On the same day she opened the show, she got married to novelist and journalist Marcus Goodrich. The wedding ceremony took place at the Weston home of Playhouse founder Lawrence Langner.

Henry Fonda and daughter Jane both appeared on the Playhouse stage, though not at the same time. With a film career still in the future, Jane Fonda starred in No Concern of Mine in 1960. Her father appeared in The Virginian at the Playhouse in 1937 — the same year Jane was born.

In 1964, 18-year-old Liza Minnelli came to the Westport Country Playhouse to get her Equity card. She played The Girl in The Fantasticks, with Elliott Gould as her co-star. On opening night, in the words of the Playhouse’s 50th anniversary brochure, “the rather gawky teenage…received a standing ovation.”

In 1987, Weston playwright David Wiltse’s Doubles was a Playhouse attraction. His newest play will be featured at a Script in Hand reading next Monday (May 6).

Remembering Patsy Englund

“06880” Mark Basile was surprised that the death in January of his longtime friend — and fellow actor — Patsy Englund did not receive any local notice. She was 93. Mark writes:

I knew and loved Patsy for 26 years. We met at the Theatre Actors Workshop. She was a very impressive woman.

Patsy Englund

Patsy’s mother, Mabel Albertson, played Darren’s mother on “Bewitched.” Her uncle was Jack Albertson, Academy Award-winning actor for “The Subject Was Roses.”

Patsy was raised in Beverly Hills by Mabel Englund and  her husband Ken. He was a screenwriter whose credits include “No No Nanette” and “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”

At UCLA, Patsy was directed by Charlie Chaplin in a production of “Rain.” After college she went into the Broadway company of “Oklahoma!” She then did the London production, returning to New York to take over the role of Ado Annie. She also toured the US with that show.

Patsy was then cast in Katharine Hepburn’s Broadway production of “As You Like It.” That’s where she met Cloris Leachman — who married Patsy’s brother George.

Patsy Englund in “As You Like It.”

During the 1950s Patsy did dozens of live TV dramas, including “Playhouse 90” and “Studio One,” while continuing to perform on Broadway and in regional theater. She married Dunham Barney Lefferts. They had a son, Nick, who survives her.

For several years, the family rented a 1920s cottage on Norwalk Avenue in Westport. They then bought it, and Patsy lived there permanently from about 1962 to 2002.

She was visiting Nick when Hurricane Sandy destroyed the house. She moved back to California, and lived there until her death.

In the early 1960s — while living in Westport — Patsy performed in the groundbreaking political satire TV show “That Was the Week That Was,” with David Frost. She also starred on Broadway in “The Beauty Part,” with Larry Hagman.

Patsy Englund (2nd from left) in “The Beauty Part.” The show — which also starred Bert Lahr and Larry Hagman — opened during a newspaper strike. That cost the production valuable publicity.

Throughout the ’60s Patsy commuted to New York while acting on several long-running soap operas. She also worked at Long Wharf, the Manhattan Theatre Club — and the Westport Country Playhouse.

In the mid-’80s, Patsy helped Keir Dullea and his wife Susie Fuller form the Theatre Artists Workshop. Longtime members included Theodore Bikel, Morton DaCosta, David Rogers, Haila Stoddard, and Ring Lardner Jr.

They met once a week to workshop new plays, scenes and songs, to audition pieces, and get constructive critiques from peers. The Workshop was housed at Greens Farms Elementary School and the Westport Arts Center, before moving to Norwalk.

Patsy Englund with Jim Noble of “Benson” in rehearsal at the Theatre Arts Workshop.

Patsy performed many play readings — including benefits for the Westport Library, Westport Historical Society and Westport Woman’s Club — during her 55 years in Westport.

She loved Westport very much, and is one of the great Westporters who contributed so much to the artistic legacy of this town.

“Oklahoma!”: The Show Goes On!

On Broadway, there’s a venerable tradition that “the show must go on.”

At Staples — where Players productions have long been compared to Broadway shows — the same tradition holds true.

Which is why — almost miraculously — “Oklahoma!” opens this Friday night.

Right on schedule.

Curly (Clay Singer) and Aunt Eller (Claire Smith) sing the classic “Oh What a Beautiful Morning.” (Photo by Kerry Long)

The decision to open as planned came after co-directors David Roth and Kerry Long decided the musical was in  good enough shape to really push things this week — the home stretch.

Rescheduling was not an option. The weekend after the show closes is Thanksgiving. The weekend after that, the auditorium is occupied by “The Nutcracker.”

With dire warnings about Sandy in the air, the directors talked to the cast about preparedness. Actors were told to bring their scripts home, and spend free time going over lines, staging and choreography.

Yet no one anticipated an entire week off from school.

The teenagers rose to the occasion. They organized their own, completely student-run rehearsals — including a full run-through at the Conservative Synagogue (which, perhaps by divine intervention, had power) — under the leadership of Players president Adam Mirkine.

Will Parker (Everett Sussman) and the ensemble, during “Kansas City.” (Photo by Kerry Long)

As soon as power returned to Staples, administrators let Players back in to set light cues and start returning to normal.

As a result, cast and crew has made up lost time. Yesterday they were right about where they usually are, entering the final stretch: “Hell Week.”

Players shows are great community events. Audience members span all ages. Many have come for years. The scene in the lobby before the curtain rises is  almost party-like.

After the craziness of Hurricane Sandy, Roth and Long wanted Westporters to get back to some semblance of normalcy, with a dynamic, entertaining production. The directors were glad for the hard-working cast, too, that the show could go on.

Thanks to Staples Players, it will.

And, because it’s Staples Players, “Oklahoma!” will be doing fine. Far more than “okay.”

(Of course, ticket sales were hurt by the extended power outage — it’s hard to buy them online without power. But if you’re reading this, you can click here for tickets. They’re also on sale at the box office before the show.)