JOHN DREW THEATRE
It was the most beautiful town I had ever seen. It was filled with artists of all disciplines. Willem deKooning and Jackson Pollack lived 100 yards apart from each other. Writers, composers, actors, directors, movie stars and captains of industry were as common as sand on its beautiful beaches. I fell in love with the place.
Guild Hall was a Class A museum with a charming 393 seat theatre. It had six boxes at the rear of the theatre and a small balcony. It was the perfect setting for our shows. Enez Whipple, the Executive Director, was the guiding hand and an incredibly competent administrator. With the extraordinary egos she had to deal with on a constant basis, she was a daily example of how good sense, polite manners and shrewd business acumen could surmount any obstacle. I believe she could have run General Motors.
Enez taught me how to navigate the shark-infested waters of an entire town of superstars. When I drove down Lily Pond Lane to Frances Ann’s home, I passed the homes of Dan and Joanna Rose. Dan owned one of the largest construction firms in the world. Other homes included: McCullough, the chainsaw people, Otis, the elevator people, Hershey, the chocolate people, Eastman as in Kodak, Minskoff, real estate and the Canon the towel people. Each estate was more beautifully manicured than the last. When I pulled into Frances Ann’s drive and first saw her 10-bedroom shaker shingled home right on the ocean, I was hooked.
She greeted us and introduced her husband Frazier. The two of them were the most down to earth people one could ask for. Full of humor and exuberance they became, as time went by, second parents to our family.
The amount of work ahead of us was staggering. Although Guild Hall had an entire administrative staff, I still had to find 20 apprentices, hire the designers, cast and direct four shows, build the physical productions for all of them and sell about 25,000 tickets. Each show required a program and a marketing campaign. The toughest job was to find affordable housing for the actors and apprentices in one of the most expensive summer communities in the world.
It was 1976. America was celebrating its bicentennial. We called the season America, The Musical. Miki Denhof, a top New York graphics designer came up with a sensational design for the season brochure and in short order we sent out about 100,000 pieces of mail. We did not have a mailing house and they had to be zip-sorted by hand. Marilyn and I and some of the apprentices spent many hours in the basement at Guild Hall breaking them down into their respective zip-codes.
With everyone making a full-out effort, the campaign was a success and the Guild Hall staff began to have more confidence in their newest team members.
The second day in East Hampton Marilyn and I went to the beach and I remember saying to her, “Get used to it, this is your life from now on.” We never got to the beach again that summer.
The Contrast wowed the sophisticated and high-toned audiences and it was showered with the same ecstatic reviews it had received in New York. The cast, in costume, paraded down the streets of East Hampton in an open horse-drawn carriage on the 4th of July to generate excitement for the show. It seemed that East Hampton loved us as much as we loved it.
Fashion and Castaways each got a similar response. We had honed Castaways and now it was ready for Off-Broadway. We began to get offers to move the show to New York. One of those offers came from Barry and Fran Weissler. At the time, they had only produced children’s shows. They pressed us repeatedly to let them option the show but, in the end, we turned them down. Barry and Fran went on to produce the 1996 Tony Award winner for best musical revival, Kander and Ebb’s, Chicago.
There were complicated political concerns swirling about the theatre. Each program had a different Committee head, Theatre, Film, Special Events, Music, Dance etc., and they were constantly fighting for time in the theatre. On top of that, the museum committee was the powerhouse. Shortly, before the season ended Enez informed me that they would not be asking me back because they wanted to try something different. I was so busy just getting it all done I neglected to devote any time to politics and paid a price.
I had no regrets. I had made some money, had a wonderful time, and was gratified by the acceptance of this community of theatregoers that had access to the finest theatre in the country. Marilyn and I headed back to New York, she to get the kids ready for school and I to find my next job. The kids were growing up and Marilyn was eager to get back to work. She found a job as the receptionist in the Annie office. Annie was a megahit and was produced by Lew Allen and Mike Nichols. Each evening, she regaled me with stories of the great and near great who came into the office on a daily basis.
Jeff Britton a producer with a somewhat dubious reputation but with real credits convinced us that he was the man to produce Castaways Off-Broadway. Shortly after we began to work on the Off-Broadway production, Jeff demanded so many changes that were unacceptable to both Steve and I that we refused to work further on the show.
The experience broke up our dream team as Don had proceeded with the show until he couldn’t bear the destruction of our original creation any longer. Steve and I went off to another show with another composer. Just before the show opened, Don tried to get in injunction to stop the opening but it was too late.