On July 1, 2019, Bucks County Playhouse will turn 80 years old. While it began the current decade in disrepair and financial uncertainty, the Playhouse’s current state is very bright. After a multi-million-dollar renovation by the Bridge Street Foundation in 2012 and through stewardship of the Playhouse’s producing team, Bucks County Playhouse is now in the midst of a renaissance and welcomes more than 80,000 people through its doors every year. To mark the anniversary, as well as its recent success, the legendary Playhouse is looking to connect the dots and rediscover its colorful past.
Thanks to a generous grant from the Pfundt Foundation, Bucks County Playhouse has launched The Nelson and Bette Pfundt Playhouse Archive to help uncover and preserve the extraordinary history of New Hope’s beloved theater.
“When the Playhouse was acquired by Bridge Street Foundation in December 2011, it was completely empty,” says Alexander Fraser, Producing Director. “Not a program, poster or press clipping could be found. Ever since, we’ve been struggling to piece together a complete and coherent history. Playhouse historian Peggy McRae has done a fantastic job, but we still have huge gaps in our historical knowledge to fill and we’re asking the community for help.”
“We are putting out a call to the entire community to head to their attics and basements and donate Bucks County Playhouse memorabilia to the newly created archive. We’re looking for playbills, press clippings, posters, photographs, signs, knick-knacks…. all can help shed light on the Playhouse’s storied history. The archive will be professionally preserved and stored, and pieces will be on rotating display at the Playhouse and in its new restaurant, The Deck,” says Fraser.
“We are thrilled that Bucks County Playhouse is back in the driver’s seat, leading the rebirth of New Hope,” says Nelson Pfundt. “Bette and I are delighted to celebrate the Playhouse’s 80th anniversary by creating an archive to rediscover and preserve its history in perpetuity.”
In celebration of the newly established archive and in honor of the 80th anniversary, The New Hope Historical Society is presenting a new exhibit, “80 Years of Bucks County Playhouse.” The exhibit, running July 6 through September 1, 2019 at the Parry Mansion just across from the Playhouse, will feature memorabilia, ephemera, and images from the Historical Society’s collection, many of which have never before been displayed, in addition to newly discovered treasures from the Pfundt Playhouse Archive.
Much has already been documented about the stars who tread the Playhouse boards. Grace Kelly made her professional debut at the Playhouse in 1949. The names of those who have graced its stage read like a who's who of American stage and screen — Robert Redford, Liza Minnelli, Helen Hayes, Walter Matthau, Angela Lansbury, Kevin Kline, Al Pacino, Dick Van Dyke, Bob Fosse, Audra McDonald and countless others. Some of the renowned American playwrights that have premiered their works at the theater include Neil Simon, S. J. Perelman, and Terrence McNally.
The archive project is being managed by David Leopold, Creative Director of The Al Hirschfeld Foundation and Director of the Studio of Ben Solowey in Bedminster, Bucks County. Leopold served as curator for the 75th Anniversary exhibition on Bucks County Playhouse for the Michener Museum in Doylestown in 2013-14.
Playhouse Historian Peggy McRae and Database Manager Katherine Eastman will assist Leopold in the creation and curatorial implementation of this project. McRae will continue to use her extensive contacts in the community to ferret out historical material, as well as develop new relationships with Playhouse alumni to track down photos, reviews and oral histories of the Playhouse. A production database is being created that, when made public, will give audiences, students and researchers worldwide access to this important information.
“The story of the rise, fall, and rebirth of the Bucks County Playhouse is rare and extraordinary,” says Leopold. “It is a story about the power of the arts, the Playhouse’s economic impact on the region, as well as the strength of the community’s spirit. It’s important that we take this opportunity to gather as much information on every aspect of the Playhouse’s history and document it for future generations.”
“We have been fortunate to receive some BCP playbills from devoted patrons,” says Peggy McRae, Playhouse Historian. “These gifts have helped us to chronologically confirm the producers, directors, productions and casts that have graced the Playhouse stage over the past 80 years and enter factual information into our new database. But the more materials we receive from the community, the better chance we have to piece together the Playhouse’s complete history.”
The Playhouse has already received some significant donations to launch the archive.
The Doylestown Historical Society has gifted to the Playhouse 284 newspaper clippings/photocopies that originally appeared in The Doylestown Intelligencer, Bucks County Herald, Philadelphia Inquirer, Towpath Magazine, Panorama Magazine and Bucks County Traveler Magazine from 1939 to 2018, as well as original playbills and some vintage photographs.
Ann Walker Liebgold, daughter of one of the Playhouse’s original founders, Don Walker, donated her father’s grand piano. Walker was a Broadway orchestrator for over 100 original productions of classic musicals, such as “Carousel,” “Kiss Me, Kate” and “Fiddler on the Roof.” Walker remained involved with the Playhouse into the 1960s.
Nita Crowley, whose father John Crowley was General Manager for the Playhouse from 1951 to 1970, has donated her father’s extraordinary Playhouse collection of over 50 posters and artifacts, including a charming collection of little ashtrays from the early 1960s.
Hugh Marshall, currently a member of the Board of Playhouse Artists, the 501©3 public charity that supports the Playhouse, is gifting the Playhouse with a collection of memorabilia and signs that once hung at the venue.
Liz Larsen and Stephanie Vine, whose acting careers began at the Playhouse before going onto Broadway, also have donated materials that belonged to their mother, Penny Larsen Vine. Penny served as an actress, press agent and board member at the Playhouse from 1963 to 2009.
Other significant donations have come many Playhouse friends, including Bill and Jean Brenner, David Newhart, Marguerite Quinn, Jessica Walter, and Sallie Bailey Stanert, who gave her father, Playhouse photographer George Bailey’s negatives from the heyday of the Playhouse.
If you have items you would like to donate to the archive, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call Producing Associate Jeremy Ehlinger at 267-388-2531.
ABOUT BUCKS COUNTY PLAYHOUSE
Bucks County Playhouse is a year-round, nonprofit theatre that has grown to a $6 million producing organization with an annual audience of over 80,000. Founded in 1939 in a converted 1790 gristmill, Bucks County Playhouse quickly became “the most famous summer theatre in America,” featuring a roster of American theatrical royalty including Helen Hayes, George S. Kaufman, Moss Hart, Kitty Carlisle, Bob Fosse, Angela Lansbury, Alan Alda, Tyne Daly, Bernadette Peters, and Liza Minnelli and remained in continuous operation until 2010. In 2012, the Playhouse re-opened after a multimillion-dollar restoration thanks to the efforts of the Bridge Street Foundation, the nonprofit family foundation of Kevin and Sherri Daugherty. The Playhouse recently unveiled The Deck Restaurant and Bar, a 4,000 square foot Delaware-river facing addition to back of the Playhouse.
In 2014, Tony Award-winning producers Alexander Fraser, Robyn Goodman and Josh Fiedler took the helm of the Playhouse, and today the Playhouse has reclaimed its reputation of attracting Broadway and Hollywood artists. Its productions of “Company” starring Justin Guarini, and William Finn’s “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” were named by Wall Street Journal to its “Best of Theatre” list for 2015. In 2018, the Wall Street Journal again hailed the Playhouse and Artistic Associate Hunter Foster in its Best of the Year listings for its production of “42nd Street.” Box office record has been repeatedly broken by signature productions of “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story,” “Steel Magnolias” directed by Marsha Mason, and “Million Dollar Quartet,” “42nd Street,” and “Guys & Dolls” directed by Hunter Foster. The creative teams who come to create new productions at the Playhouse are among the most talented artists working in the professional theatre today and relish the opportunity to work on the historic stage where Grace Kelly, Robert Redford, and Jessica Walter began their careers.
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