Allen’s Alley (6-2-13) Call For Stories: The Barn and Plantation Dinner Theatres

new allen's alleyAs a former amateur actor and director (last worked theatre at Maryville University before I retired from there in 2000, after 23 years), I’ve been enthralled with all of the testimonials on FB recently about people earning their equity cards. Reminds me of the annual SAG awards when the actors at the tables relate how they got their cards and finish with their name and then the phrase, “…and I’m an actor.”

A recent post by Bobby Miller mentioned his card was earned at the Barn Dinner Theatre. That brought back a flood of memories. I started reviewing theatre in the early ’70’s and The Barn and Plantation facilities offered a bizarre mix of on-again, off-again food with some on-again, off-again theatre depending on the star driving the vehicle. So much of the local talent endured constant mugging or trademark “bits” forced into legitimate plays but then we saw some great things when stars were seriously trying to do good work or, in some cases, when that local talent filled a show without a star driving it.

Before I launch into a few memories and observations, let me urge any Barn and Plantation veterans to respond to this post or contact me at stlcritic@aol.com with stories about your experiences there. Besides this edition of “Allen’s Alley,” Bobby and I have discussed expanding the story including the unusual history and any stories we get about these two unique facilities.

With so much “drama” going on during the comedies on stage, the audience was often more fun to watch. There was always the fun of watching what “sweet young thing” Gentry Trotter (a then local and rather flamboyant critic) would bring as his guest. During the ’70’s it was always exciting to see the new fashion trends for the discriminating male theatre-goer. Would they wear their leisure suit? Perhaps the latest Nehru jacket or- better yet- the even more short-lived Eisenhower jacket.

Then, of course, there were the cast parties after the play. What’s better than my wife getting a kiss on the hand from Cesare Romero?  Me getting a kiss on the lips from Angela Cartwright. Most of the “stars” were very nice and really made an attempt to mingle with the guests. Forrest Tucker and I traded jokes till past midnight- even though his performance on stage in “Hanky Panky” wasn’t the quality we hoped for (after he played Harold Hill in the touring company of “The Music Man” at the American Theatre). Ruta Lee went “lap to lap” with all the guys. Tommy Smothers was a kind and very serious soul. And, of course, there’s that kiss from Angela Cartwright!  Then there was the drunk (on stage during “Charley’s Aunt”) Donald O’Connor who didn’t show up to the cast party at all. We didn’t even bother attending the party after Martha Raye mugged her way through the horrible to begin with play, “Everybody Loves Opal.” At least the food was usually pretty good at the cast parties.

The last owner, Mike Moss, due to his shady shenanigans, probably went into investment banking after his theaters finally went bust. He was, as one of my friends close to the theaters said, “Mike The Monster.” He was in so much trouble near the end of the run with unions, actors and audiences that he finally slunk out of town and the Plantation transformed into a church.

Allen's Alley picBut before that run ended, there were some unbelievable productions going on. You never knew what you were going to get as the local talent held most plays together, but stars, bad directorial decisions and often bad food before the show weren’t conducive to a good theatrical experience. Then, on occasion, you’d get an excellent all-around production. Of course, there were the odd mix of spiecial events too including Will B. Able’s “This Was Burlesque” and the drag show, “French Dressing.”

Through it all, many folks still involved in St. Louis theatre today were a part of this bizarre history. With titles like “Two And Two Make Sex,” “Never Get Smart With An Angel” and “Here Lies Jeremy Troy” mixing with more familiar shows like “The Odd Couple,” “Bell, Book and Candle” and even a musical or two like “I Do! I Do!”, they participated in an odd conglomeration of theatre. From Sarah (now Sally) Eaton in “Busybody” to Peter Mayer in “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof,” the local talent always “starred” in these shows. There were names like Bobby Miller, Amy Ruprecht, John Contini, Alan Clarey, Joan Hanson (and her husband Alan who directed several productions), James Anthony, Patton Hasegawa (now L. Patton Chiles), James Paul and Kevin Hofeditz- who later took his mentor’s last name and became Kevin Paul, Susie Wall, Whit Reichert, Gary Carlson, Millie Garvey (who also choreographed several musicals there), Richard Cosentino, “Buzz” Barton, Joneal Joplin and many, many more.

Then, as the theaters were beginning to breath their last, two actors who were in many of the productions and then married, Art and Kathy Romans, rented the Barn and remade it as The New Barn Dinner Theatre. The quality of the food and the productions dramatically improved. Suddenly we were getting wonderful shows like “The Moon Is Blue” with Susie Wall, Joneal Joplin and Neville Mur, “An Almost Perfect Person” with Maggie Ryan, James Paul and Peter Mayer, “Luv” with Susie Wall, Richard Pilcher and Gary Carlson, “The Owl and The Pussycat” with Bobby Miller and  Patton Hasegawa, and “The Rivalry” with Arthur C. Romans as Stephen Douglas and Joneal Joplin as Abraham Lincoln.

I talked to Kathy Leake Lucas, who, with her husband Art Romans, had that short 8 or 9 month run at the New Barn Dinner Theatre. They divorced in 1992 and Art died of stomach cancer in 1999. Kathy is now married to Jim Lucas and they live in Henderson, Nevada. She’s worked in real estate, has been a motivational speaker for the last eleven years and still sings as part of the Sweet Adeline’s Barbershop Chorus. But she’ll always be remembered as one of the “savior’s” of the Barn. Dinner theatre has never been the ideal form of theatre. You get somewhat rowdy crowds who eat AND drink before a show and so much of dinner theatre has been relegated to second tier plays often resulting in second class productions. In one of the productions- I believe it was Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians”- the rather unruly crowd started yelling things at the actors like “Don’t listen to him- he’s the killer.” That’s almost as bad as a cell phone going off during one of today’s legitimate theatre productions.

We weren’t able to attend the last few plays as the Plantation Dinner Theater faded into oblivion. As I said, the owner got into some trouble with unions (particularly union painters, for some reason), I don’t remember the whole story- but I mentioned it in one of my reviews and he vehemently cut me off the press list.

With so much of that local talent on those stages over the years, though, I would really like to hear your experiences- the good, the bad and the horrific. As I said at the top, reply to the blog or my personal email at stlcritic@aol.com and we’ll share your stories. It was a fun, roller coaster ride and a great piece of St. Louis theatre history.

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19 Responses to “Allen’s Alley (6-2-13) Call For Stories: The Barn and Plantation Dinner Theatres”

  1. Kathy Lucas Says:

    Thanks, Steve…great article..really brought back memories!!!

  2. Bobby Miller Says:

    What a GREAT read, Steve! Really wonderful! (whoa, Richard Cosentino, loved that guy!) Gotta expand this into more … PLEASE write Part 2!!
    (Just remembered another story about OWL I’ll email you privately)

    • Steve Allen Says:

      Yeah, Bobby- I remember some of the great Richard Costentino performances there and with Wesley Van Tassel at Lindenwood and the Westport Playhouse too. If I have the patience, I could probably dig deeper and do some stories from my reviews on TPC, Westport, TNT and on and on. I’ll definitely do a follow up on these Barn and Plantation stories. Thanks for the kind words…Steve

  3. Dave Gillette Says:

    I was the Stage Manager for the Plantation. I have some great stories and would hate to see the theater fade into oblivion. Tommy Smothers was one of the best! There was a young actor in a silly western comedy called Red Dawg (John Goodman). I also remember a lot of really good concerts as well – Dave Brubeck, Stan Kenton, David Clayton Thomas and B,S & T to name a few. Let me know if you would like more.

    • Steve Allen Says:

      Sounds like a wealth of info, Dave. Yes, I would like to focus on the positive as well. I’ve already heard from some of the local folks who are still in town as well as Kevin Paul Hofeditz who is currently teaching in Texas. I remember Tommy Smothers very well as we used to go to the cast parties after the plays and met so many of the stars. Tommy is the one we all talk about when the subject comes up about how really nice he was and very down to earth. Please send along any more stories as elaborate or simple as you would like and I’ll get things going on a second edition of the Barn and Plantation highlights. Thanks so much for responding and I look forward to many more good, bad, funny or other experiences you had there…Steve

  4. Ann Feldman Says:

    I received my AGVA card at the Plantation and then was able to join Actors Equity in 1977. I came in from New York and was a dancer in Burlesque “77. The show starred Frank Silvano, a “baggy pants” comedian. It was a zany show and a zany summer. We came in after Tommy Smothers in Play it Again Sam. I remember Mike Moss, although vaguely. He once treated the cast to a steak dinner after one of the performances. It is actually was a theatre experience that I remember vividly, although it was 37 years ago. The director, whose name I don’t remember, kept changing the numbers after the show opened, and would delete numbers and add new ones on a daily basis for awhile. I remember that in one number, the dancers were getting on and off flimsy chairs , and singing into hand held mikes. On opening night we were tripping over the wires and some of us fell off of the chairs. Not too well thought out. Fortunately , they eliminated that number. Anyway, I loved being in that theatre, and all in all it was great fun. Ann Feldman

    • Steve Allen Says:

      Ann- thanks so much for the reminiscence. What are you up to now? Still in the business? It was really a mixed bag of shows and I remember Frank Silvano’s show very vividly. Do you hear from any of the other folks in that show or shows at the Barn and Plantation? I’ve heard from some but I’d really like to do another series of articles for Stage Door St. Louis about this unique experience in St. Louis theatre. Thanks again and I hope to hear from you as well as others very soon. …Steve Allen

      • Ann Feldman Says:

        Hi, Steve- I kept up for some time with Lora Martens, Anne Neville and Linda Gradl, who were the other dancers in Frank Silvan0’s show, as we all became good friends that summer and for several years afterwards. Sorry to say, I have lost touch with them Linda was from St. Louis and moved to New York shortly after the show.Lora Martens’ first professional theatre job was at the Plantation that summer and she went on to have a very successful performing career as a dancer and actress , including some roles on Broadway. I am no longer in the business but I did get an MA in Dance Education and still teach dance classes. I have a 23 year old son and a 20 year old daughter. My son is an actor and a singer and is also studying comedy improv and taking courses in sketch writing.I am pleased that you remember the show! Thank you for responding to my message and I hope to stay in touch. It will be interesting to read your articles for Stage Door St. Louis. Best, Ann Feldman

      • Steve Allen Says:

        Thanks, Ann- it’s a pleasure hearing from you again so quickly. Do keep in touch and please keep reading. We’ve got a rich and talented theatre community here in St. Louis- I’m very lucky to be able to catch most of it and write about it. Please send along any funny, sad, unique anecdotes you remember from Frank Silvano’s show here too. Look forward to talking with you again. Keep dancin’! Steve

      • Dave Gillette Says:

        I was the stage manager for the Barn and then the Plantation Dinner Theatres. I have some programs and production shots somewhere in the garage. If anyone is interested, I’ll try to dig them up and scan them. I worked backstage on hundreds of theatrical shows and concerts. It was a great training ground. During most of shows I was stage manager, lighting and sound tech. For a while I also did the preshow announcements from the stage. I wound up staying in production providing AV for corporate clients. Now I try to help children’s charities with event production. Are there enough of us to do a reunion? I stay in touch with half a dozen people from the Barn or Plantation. Just a thought.

      • Steve Allen Says:

        Dave- thanks for another post. I would be interested in some photos from both places if you could send them to my email- stlcritic@aol.com. I’m trying to remember you from Maryville U. as well. I was media director there from 1973 to 1976 and again from 1982 to 2000. While there I sponsored the Drama Club, started the Noontime Fine Arts Series and several other arts-related projects. Were you in any of my productions? I also taught a couple of courses as an adjunct. Anyway, let me know if you can send any photos my way and feel free to share any stories- funny, inspiring, things going wrong, etc. Also, any of your other buddies you’re still in touch with, I would like some stories from them as well. Thanks so much for taking time to message me again and I look forward to hearing from you…Steve

      • Steve Allen Says:

        Sorry, Dave- I was reading the top of your message and mistook my statement for yours- you obviously were not involved with Maryville University.

  5. Marty Connolly Says:

    Great running across this. I got my Equity card from being in The Fantastiks at the Barn and later, was in Father of the Bride with Lyle Talbott at the Plantation. Well before 1980 when I ended up at KSLH (91.5 FM) until the Board of Education essentially gave it to Webster & then sold it to a Christian group. For my work there I was in the 1st Edition of Who’s Who in Entertainment. Rich Cosentino and I were classmates in grad school at SLU & John Contini was an undergrad. Let me know where I can follow this thread please. Be well, Marty Connolly

    • Steve Allen Says:

      Great hearing from you, Marty. I’ve been collecting stories from the old Barn and Plantation and maybe early next year I’ll do a column (or several) as a follow-up to the pieces I’ve done already. Thanks so much for getting in touch…Steve

  6. Scott Byrd Says:

    I worked there remember many shows, I believe the first show was fiddler on the roof at plantation

    • Steve Allen Says:

      Thanks, Scott. I’ve received several lengthy narratives on productions there. If you have any amusing or unusual anecdotes, please send them along. What are you doing now? Still in show biz?

  7. Jay Kramer Says:

    My mom was assistant manager there for a long time. Growing up I was there all the time with her and was able to see a lot of shows. I remember meeting Al Lewis, Donnie Most, Ceaser Romero, Peabo Bryson and I really remember a Elvis impersonator they had there all the time by the name of Ron Furrer(or something close). I was a little kid and would help bus tables while most of my sisters and brother worked there. It was a fun place to be at all the time as a kid.

    • Steve Allen Says:

      Thanks, Jay- good to hear about the positive vibes there. If you have any anecdotes about working with the stars, please send them along. I know you were very young, but you might have some great memories. Thanks again…Steve

      • Ann Feldman Says:

        Hi. I danced in Burlesque’77. It was a blast! Are there archives going back that far? I would love to see photographs if there are any.

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