Memories of Melody Top: Remembering Milwaukee’s Summer Stock Theatre

1970s Playbills

1970 – Season Eight


Peter Palmer recreated his Broadway and film role of LI’L ABNER. Tommy Tune played the M.C. in CABARET, and Elaine Cancilla (who would later marry Jerry Orbach) was Sally Bowles. Ann Blyth’s performance as Magnolia in SHOW BOAT was called "lovely." Donald Yap began his long career at The Top as both conductor and musical director.

LI'L ABNER

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1971 – Season Nine


FIDDLER ON THE ROOF and MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS had the largest attendance of the 1971 season. Popular Broadway and TV star Ed Evanko made his Top debut in DAMN YANKEES and returned opposite Jane Powell in MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (an exclusive summer stock production, as the show did not arrive on Broadway until 1989). Van Johnson’s trademark red socks were ideal for playing the Devil in DAMN YANKEES.

MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS

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1972 – Season Ten


Leonard Nimoy in OLIVER!, Ann Blyth in THE SOUND OF MUSIC and Earl Wrightson in MAN OF LA MANCHA all did capacity business, while the other four musicals presented during the 1972 season were not far behind in attendance. Stephen Sondheim’s first Tony® Award-winning Broadway score, for the musical COMPANY, made its Milwaukee premiere at Melody Top, a mere seven months after closing in New York City.

OLIVER!

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1973 – Season Eleven


Van Johnson’s THE MUSIC MAN and Orson Bean’s PROMISES, PROMISES sold out, while WONDERFUL TOWN registered the lowest attendance in many seasons. Nine weeks before arriving in Milwaukee to star in APPLAUSE, Gretchen Wyler fractured her right ankle in two places. She played some of the show in a wheelchair or sitting down. This dedication to live performance is rarely observed by today’s musical theatre stars.

SOUTH PACIFIC

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1974 – Season Twelve


Jo Anne Worley made a great hit with audiences as Winnifred in ONCE UPON A MATTRESS and returned to The Top in later seasons as the star of ANYTHING GOES, HELLO, DOLLY!, ANNIE GET YOUR GUN and GYPSY. When audiences were asked which stars they wanted to return in future productions, Ms. Worley was often at the top of the list. She remains active on the musical stage, having appeared on Broadway in THE DROWSY CHAPERONE and on tour as Madame Morrible in the smash hit WICKED.

FINIAN'S RAINBOW ONCE UPON A MATTRESS

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1975 – Season Thirteen


Former Hit Parade girl Dorothy Collins opened the 1975 season opposite Carl Betz in GOOD NEWS, but the hit of the season was Ed Ames in CAMELOT (which broke all box office records for The Top). Ms. Collins had relatives living in Manitowoc, which explained why ticket buyers from that area purchased large quantities of seats for GOOD NEWS. Broadway performer and producer Jana Robbins played The Leader in ZORBA, while Ann Blyth was in a rare revival of Noel Coward’s lovely BITTER SWEET.

ANNIE GET YOUR GUN GYPSY

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1976 – Season Fourteen


Jane Powell’s IRENE, John Raitt’s SHENANDOAH and Leonard Nimoy’s MY FAIR LADY co-starring Linda Michele were the box office triumphs of the 14th season. Popular television sitcom and film actress Holland Taylor appeared as Charlotte in A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC. Cris Groenendaal played several roles this season, before he appeared in the Broadway productions of SUNDAY IN THE PARK...GEORGE and SWEENEY TODD.

A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM

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1977 – Season Fifteen


1977 marked the last season of the old tent! Lucie Arnaz made her Top debut, but Giorgio Tozzi’s FIDDLER was again the champ of the season. A well-reviewed revival of Sondheim’s musical masterpiece, FOLLIES, was mounted with one of its original Broadway stars (Dorothy Collins). Broadway veteran Harvey Evans was cast as Finch in HOW TO SUCCEED…, while local Tony Crivello played Conrad Birdie in BYE BYE BIRDIE. As Anthony Crivello, he would originate the role of Valentin in the original Broadway production of KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN, winning a deserved Tony® Award.

THE WIZARD OF OZ

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1978 – Season Sixteen


The permanent wooden dome was completed just in time for the opening of the 16th season. Anna Maria Alberghetti was the first star to appear under the dome in THE SOUND OF MUSIC, while Barry Williams made his Top debut in PIPPIN. The top draws of 1978 were PIPPIN, THE SOUND OF MUSIC and John Raitt in MAN OF LA MANCHA. Nancy Dussault was rigged to fly underneath the lighting grid, about 10 feet in the air according to the official newspaper review, in her winning portrayal of PETER PAN.

PETER PAN

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1979 – Season Seventeen


Under new producer Guy S. Little, Jr.'s guidance, Gretchen Wyler returned to The Top for the first time in five years as MAME, and Howard Keel returned for the first time since 1964 as the impressive star of PAINT YOUR WAGON. The hit of the season was the ever-popular SHOW BOAT with the beloved Margaret Hamilton playing Parthy and supported by a talented cast including Terrence Monk, Betsy Norden, Robert Mosley, Birdie M. Hale, Ed Herlihy and Gloria Hodes. LULLABY OF BROADWAY was presented as a pre-Broadway tryout of "a new musical excitement," featuring the songs of Harry Warren. Producer Leonard M. Landau placed the following insert in all programs: "Anyone interested in becoming a Broadway angel and desiring information about investing in a Broadway show, please contact the producer." Two phone numbers and an address on Palisade Avenue in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey are listed.

MAME PAINT YOUR WAGON

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