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

1970s Playbills

1980 – Season Eighteen

Star of the original movie version of FAME, Irene Cara made her Top debut as Dorothy in THE WIZ, supported by performers from the New York and touring productions of the show. Charming Kitty Carlisle appeared for the first time at The Top in WHERE’S CHARLEY? Jack Gilford starred in The Top’s first STUDENT PRINCE, but the brilliant voices of Keith Rice and Sarah Rice made an everlasting impact on local audiences. Popular Broadway and voice-over actor Jonathan Freeman appeared this season as Hubert in THE STUDENT PRINCE and Boris in CAN-CAN. April Shawhan (Roxie) and Louisa Flaningam (Velma) played the female leads in CHICAGO. GREASE, performed post-season, was choreographed by Kathi Moss (the original Cha Cha on Broadway).


(Click on the programs above to learn more about these productions.)

1981 – Season Nineteen

Barry Williams' singing of "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning" while riding a live horse on stage seemed to create the most excitement during the 1981 season! Mimi Hines, who replaced Barbra Streisand in the Broadway production of FUNNY GIRL, recreated her Fanny Brice for Milwaukee audiences. Both Chita Rivera and Frank Gorshin were announced to play the M.C. in CABARET, but the role was eventually played by Top favorite Louisa Flaningam. Debbie Reynolds performed her popular show post-season.

1982 – Season Twenty

The 20th anniversary season opened with a revival of GUYS & DOLLS, the same musical that opened Melody Top’s first season in 1963. Broadway’s original ANNIE, Andrea McArdle, made her Top debut in MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, with Ellie Quint as Mrs. Smith. John Raitt returned to charm audiences in FANNY. Doug Sheehan from GENERAL HOSPITAL was the hit of the season as The Pirate King. The outstanding ensemble, many of whom played principal roles during the season, included Debra Dominiak, Mary Ernster, Peter Lerangis, Susanna Wells and K. David Short.


(Click on the program above to learn more about the production.)

1983 – Season Twenty-One

Clowns (provided by Lafter & Fun Techniques) entertained on the theatre’s grounds before performances of BARNUM, which was quite appropriate considering the musical’s subject matter and the design of the theatre’s main building. Future Broadway star and producer Lauren Mitchell essayed the role of Sonia in THEY’RE PLAYING OUR SONG. Ann Arvia played several female leads this summer, and headshots of the resident Equity company appeared in this season's playbills.


(Click on the programs above to learn more about these productions.)

1984 – Season Twenty-Two

Anthony Rapp, from the original Broadway cast of RENT, played the title role in OLIVER! Before winning rave reviews and awards for her performances in the Broadway productions of 42nd STREET and GREY GARDENS, Christine Ebersole appeared as Eliza Doolittle in MY FAIR LADY at Melody Top. Henry Higgins was played by the son (Noel Harrison) of the man (Rex Harrison) who originated the role on Broadway. Milwaukee's George Lee Andrews portrayed Captain von Trapp in THE SOUND OF MUSIC. Connie Stevens was announced for THE BEST LITTLE… as a post-season special, but the role of Miss Mona was played by Fannie Flagg (author of FRIED GREEN TOMATOES).

1985 – Season Twenty-Three

While no performers’ names appeared over the title in A CHORUS LINE, standouts in this production included Michaela Hughes as Cassie, David Loring as Paul and P.J. Benjamin as Zach. Melody Top was only the second theatre in the nation to present this timeless musical "in-the-round;" the first revised staging was performed at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, Illinois. Alene Robertson, a star of musical theatre on every stage in Chicago, personified The Wicked Witch of the West in THE WIZARD OF OZ. Box office records were again broken by Peter Reckell as JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, with an equally mesmerizing Mary Magdalene portrayed by Mary Ernster. AMADEUS, presented post-season, was the only play ever produced by Melody Top.

1986 – Season Twenty-Four

The final, bittersweet season featured a variety of performers known to audiences throughout the Midwest. From Chicago, Iris Lieberman, Susie McMonagle and Alene Robertson played a variety of roles. These women continue to perform in musical theatre. Milwaukee favorites William Leach, Norman Moses and a 16-year old sensation named Lori Kathryn Holton all appeared at The Top during its last summer of musicals. Norman Moses remains a favorite at Milwaukee’s Skylight Opera Theatre.

1987 – Season Cancelled

A twenty-fifth summer line-up was announced in playbills at the end of the 1986 season, but these plans were eventually cancelled. Please see the theatre history page for further information regarding the closing of Melody Top Theatre.

Additional Performances

During the theatre's last two seasons, several productions especially for children were mounted. In 1985, SNOW WHITE and PINOCCHIO were presented, while JACK & THE BEANSTALK, HANSEL & GRETEL and SLEEPING BEAUTY were staged during 1986.

Throughout the twenty-four seasons, concerts were presented on Monday evenings. Because season musicals were not performed on these nights, the auditorium was available for other events. Bill Hayes and Susan Seaforth performed on a stormy night in 1981. Count Basie and his orchestra also entertained audiences at Melody Top.

(A special "thank you" to Tim Kraetsch for providing his list of shows and stars.)

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