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

Dan, the webmaster of this site, had the extreme honor of visiting Mr. Guy S. Little, Jr. at his home in Sullivan, IL, during the weekend of June 18-20, 2010. Mr. Little was a gracious and generous host, and he shared many wonderful stories of his years as producer and general manager of Melody Top Theatre. Most amusing are his stories of taking Nanette Fabray to the Wisconsin State Fair and of accompanying Kitty Carlisle on a visit with Lynn Fontanne at Ten Chimneys. The photographs below, which he lovingly saved from a life-long career in the theatre, are from Mr. Little's personal collection.

Jo Anne Worley Northridge Mall

Jo Anne Worley promoting HELLO, DOLLY! (1980) at Northridge Shopping Mall.

Annie Girls at County Stadium

The talented girls from ANNIE (1983), performing at Milwaukee's County Stadium.

Can-Can with Board of Directors

Guy S. Little, Jr., producer and general manager; an unidentified man; John Phillip Law, dressed as Judge Aristide; Thomas W. Godfrey, board secretary; William L. Law, board director; Sue Ane Langdon, costumed as La Mome Pistache; William Luff, board president and treasurer; and Roy A. Gruber, board vice president. A photograph taken of the board of directors during the run of CAN-CAN in 1980.

Pirates of Penzance and the Luffs

William Luff, Mathilda Luff, Doug Sheehan and Guy S. Little, Jr., in a picture taken during the run of THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE (1982).



Recollections from Melody Top's last artistic director

GREASE Souvenir Program

Tom Marks started his professional association with Melody Top Theatre in the fall of 1980 when he played Kenickie in GREASE with Barry Williams as Danny Zuko. Tom came to Milwaukee directly from St. Louis, where he played the same role at the Westport Playhouse. Others in the Melody Top cast included Brina Rodin, Miss Lynch; Nancy Mueller, Patty Simcox; David Larson, Eugene Florczyk; Mib Bramlette, Jan; Laura Soltis, Marty; Jane Portela, Betty Rizzo; Mark Shannon, Doody; Ron Relic, Roger; Brian van den Broucke, Sonny LaTierri; Anita Lento, Frenchy; Ann Arvia, Sandy Dumbrowski; Philip Courington, Vince Fontaine; K. David Short, Johnny Casino and Teen Angel; and Martina Vidmar, Cha-Cha DiGregorio. Direction was by James Langrall, with choreography by Kathi Moss. This well-reviewed production, originally announced as a post-season offering from September 9 to 21, 1980, was extended to a three-week run due to its popularity with audiences. The following is a gallery of Tom's photographs:

GREASE sock hop GREASE Burger Palace Boys GREASE Greased Lightning GREASE Dancing GREASE Kenickie
Children's Theatre

After several years as co-producer with Michael Wilson at the Little Theatre on the Square in Sullivan, Illinois, the producing team started an extremely successful children's theatre at Melody Top with showings of SNOW WHITE and PINOCCHIO during the 1985 summer season. With a very limited budget, minimal publicity and no advance ticket sales, the first of four performances resulted in a line of eager attendees that stretched from the box office all the way to Good Hope Road and beyond! For Melody Top's final season in 1986, Tom Marks (artistic director), Michael Wilson (associate producer) and Philip Procter (producer/general manager) started transitioning Melody Top's programming from "star packages" of tried-and-true musicals to more intimate productions with a mixture of celebrities and Midwestern talent. With a grant from McDonald's, they continued their theatre offerings for younger audiences with JACK & THE BEANSTALK, HANSEL & GRETEL and SLEEPING BEAUTY. Tom also spent a tremendous amount of time and energy planning a 1987 season at Melody Top that was unfortunately abandoned by its board of directors. Click here (1980s SEASONS) to learn about what would have been presented during the Top's twenty-fifth summer season.

One of the most memorable moments during 1986 at Melody Top happened near the end of TWO BY TWO. A mist and rainbow effect was projected under the auditorium's wooden dome to represent an end to the flood for Noah, his family and all the animals on that famous ark. The following is Tom's vivid account of working on the effect:

"Yes, there was a rainbow projected onto a layer of fog and it appeared to be absolutely 3-D in the theatre and coming down the main aisle. We'd started working on that effect several months before going into production. It worked very well on nights when we didn't have a lot of cross ventilation at the ends of the dome. The effect was created from heater coils, a dry powder and fans that we mounted over the main entrance tunnel. Ushers had to be instructed to quickly and quietly allay audience fears that a fire was developing in the dome. Finding the right timing to start this effect was very complicated because the coil had to reach a certain heat before the powder would actually create the fog, and then we had to find a time to start the fans to send it down the main aisle. And I think we did have Milwaukee fire marshals present at every performance, right around the time the effect was started, to prevent audience panic."

BABES IN ARMS

The glamorous finale of BABES IN ARMS (1986) in black, white and fuchsia. Melody Top often used a streamers effect from the lighting grid, an ideal way of adding color and dimension to the stage without blocking views of performers from the audience.

SHE LOVES ME

A rehearsal shot of SHE LOVES ME (1986), with Suzanne Freshley as a shop customer, Jack Milo as Ladislav Sipos, Kitty Bickers as another customer, Tom Marks as Steven Kodaly and Iris Lieberman as Miss Ritter. Tom played the same part, featuring the showstopping "Grand Knowing You," for SCT Productions in Chicago during 1978.

TWO BY TWO

The talented cast of TWO BY TWO (1986): John Ruess as Japheth; Kitty Bickers as Rachel; Alene Robertson as Esther; Mary Ernster as Goldie; Lawrence (Larry) McCauley as Noah; Jack Milo as Ham; Iris Lieberman as Leah; and Don J. Orlando as Shem.

SOMETHING'S AFOOT

The very last production at Melody Top Theatre: SOMETHING'S AFOOT (1986). Pictured to the right of the inflated dinosaur is Mary Jo Catlett, who recreated the role of Miss Tweed from the musical's very first production at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut. This hilarious and very clever production was directed by one of the show's authors, James McDonald, and featured a cast comprised of Iris Lieberman, Lettie; D.C. Anderson, Flint; Don J. Orlando, Clive; Mary Ernster, Hope Langdon; Ray Lonergan, Dr. Grayburn; Richard L. Reardon, Nigel Rancour; Alene Robertson, Lady Grace Manley-Prowe; Jack Milo, Colonel Gillweather and John Ruess, Geoffrey.

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