Back to: Table of Contents | Chapter 4. The Pryor Years
Dick Snavely had a solid grasp of the Raleigh Little Theatre’s resources and needs when he took over as director-manager. He had served for three years as the theatres technical director and had won consistent praise from audiences and critics for his skill in designing and executing sets.
Snavely graduated from Lynchburg College in 1950 with a major in English and drama. He then taught at Warwick High School in Warwick, Virginia, before returning to school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from September 1951 to August 1952. At that time he accepted the post of technical director of the Little Theatre. In the summer of 1953, he was property manager of the outdoor drama “Unto These Hills,” and in summer 1954 he directed the first full season of summer theatre at RLT.
Snavely’s selection as director-manager signaled a new direction for the Little Theatre. And it was marked symbolically by introduction of a new design for the annual “Oscar” awards for best performances. The design was chosen in a competition sponsored by State College. Bill Kaplan, a fifth-year design student at State, had the winning entry and was awarded $50 on the night the first new awards were presented. The three-faced sculpture was reproduced in white porcelain from plaster forms under the direction of W.W. Kriegel, head of the ceramics department at State College. The first winners of the newly designed awards on May 17, 1955, were Pat Hall, best actress; Fred Jensen, best actor; Barbara White, best supporting actress; Webb Suratt, best supporting actor; Margaret Joslin, best newcomer actress; and George Dewey, best newcomer actor.
It was also announced that George Bireline Jr. had accepted the position of technical director, succeeding Snavelv. Born in Peoria, Illinois, Bireline served in the European Theatre of Operations during the war, and then attended Bradley University, where he earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in painting. He had designed sets for the RLT production of “Admirable Crichton” and had also done acting and technical work with the Little Theatre. Bireline had worked with the company of “Unto These Hills,” as well, and had taught at the Cherokee Indian Reservation in Western North Carolina.
The summer schedule included arena productions on the amphitheatre stage of “Sabrina Fair,” “The Girl on the Via Flaminia,” and “The Rainmaker.” Ann Dearing, a Little Theatre veteran with eight years of professional experience, played the title role in “Sabrina Fair.” Snavely directed all three productions.
The 1955-56 season opened October 14 with Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman,” with Bill Burton, Betty Dick, Norman Larson and Harvey Bumgardner in leading roles. The Raleigh Times called it “a tremendous theatrical experience.”
Next on the schedule was “Three Men on a Horse,” opening December 2, 1955, with leading roles taken by K. Hall, Phil Ellis, Ed Wagner and Lou Radner. The News and Observer critic was not amused: ‘The play opened with a rather dull thud. The cast seemed, at times, to be doing their valiant best with what is perhaps the worst play selection of the theatre in recent years.”
Response to “Picnic,” which opened January 27, 1956, was much more favorable. With Dan Harvat, Marty Preston and Barbara White in the leads, the cast presented “a professional and entertaining performance,” according to Helen Tucker of The Raleigh Times.
Readers Digest gave the Little Theatre some national publicity in its January 1956 issue, citing RLT as an example of the ingenuity and determination of community playhouses since the start of the “little theatre” movement in the 1920s.
RLT presented “Uncle Harry,” a suspense murder drama, March 16-22, 1956, with George Hall, Ann Seltman and Kathy Wagner in leading roles.
Two State College faculty members, Jack Suberman and Lodwick Hartley, head of the English department, collaborated on an original three-act play, “A Shout and a Cry,” which was given a workshop production March 26, 1956, directed by Norman Larson. The N&O said the production had “all the polish of a regular RLT offering.” As for the play itself, the critic called it an “unfinished script … from which can come an exceptional play.”
The last show of the year, “The Fifth Season,” opened April 27, 1956, with Bill Burton and Harry Stewart in the leads. Helen Tucker of The Raleigh Times said: “The play is funny, well-acted, but built on a flimsy plot.”
RLT got some television exposure July 7, 1956, on WUNC-TV with the presentation of an original one-act play, “The Proposal,” by George Hall, a Little Theatre member. Ann Seltman and Kathy Wagner starred, and Norman Lawson moderated the panel discussion that followed.
Three arena productions were presented in the amphitheatre during the summer of 1956 — “Time of the Cuckoo,” “Green Grow the Lilacs,” and “All Summer Long.”
On September 7, 1956, it was announced that Jack Porter would succeed George Bireline as technical director. Porter, who was from Greenville, South Carolina, was an assistant professor of speech at Furman University and technical director of the Theatre Guild there. He received a master’s degree in drama from the University of North Carolina and was company manager of “Unto These Hills” in the summer of 1956.
The 1956-57 season opened October 12 with “Anniversary Waltz,” a comedy with Betty Dick, Jack Porter, Jeffery Dick and Michele La Borwitt in the cast.
The Little Theatre was in the spotlight in the fall 1956 edition of Southern Theatre News. An article by Burnett Hobgood commented: “The Raleigh Little Theatre has developed a strength in its productions which make it the envy of sister Southern theatres and a bellwether for community theatres across the land.”
“A Streetcar Named Desire” was the second production of the RLT season, featuring Karl Rawicz, Laura Worth, Penny Thomason and Charles Kahn and seven newcomers in the cast of 12. Two widely varying critical reactions to the play give a clue as to why play reviews — and theatrical histories — are seldom cast in bronze. Helen Tucker of The Raleigh Times wrote: “A Streetcar Named Desire’ traveled on a bumpy track during the patron’s preview last night. … On the whole, ‘Streetcar’ left much to be desired.” But Burnett Hobgood, writing in Southern Theatre News, called the RLT production “a neatly paced and confidently relaxed performance of Tennessee Williams’ probing drama of a sensitive woman’s collapse…. The increasing pointing of action-phrases in the last two acts made it also an interesting performance of a disturbing play.”
The Raleigh Little Theatre Workshop on December 16 presented “The Littlest Angel,” adapted for the stage by Norman Larson and Margaret Burns, with choral music and choreography.
The next production of the regular RLT season was “The Desperate Hours,” starring Ted Daniel, Betty Hurt and Norman Larson, presented Jan. 25-31, 1957. “One of the best productions of the season,” said The Times. Director Snavely made an on-stage appearance in the play as Chuck Wright.
The Little Theatre jumped feet first into the television world February 13, 1957, with an hour-long play on WUNC-TV, the first such effort by RLT. The play was “Elisha and the Long Knives,” the story of a youth who changed the lives of three men along the Santa Fe Trail in the 1840s. The cast included George Hall, Ann Seltman, Jack Robertson, Harvey Bumgardner, Lyman Melvin, Neil Upchurch and Jack Porter. Dick Snavely and Barbara White directed.
Ferenc Molnar’s comedy, “The Play’s the Thing,” opened March 15, with Margaret Burns in the leading role of IIlona Szabo, the beautiful prima donna. “Solid entertainment,” said The Times reviewer.
The next production March 28, 1957, was a joint effort of the RLT Workshop and the State College Union — two one-act plays. William Saroyan’s “Hello Out There,” directed by Harvey Bumgardner, had previously won the top award in the State College one-act play festival. The second play was an original work by Bumgardner and Barbara White, “The Teacup,” directed by Norman Larson and a first-prize winner in the Community Theatre Division of the Carolina Dramatic Association. “The Teacup” later won the Betty Smith Award for playwriting at the Carolina Dramatic Association meeting in April 1957.
The regular RLT season closed with “The Teahouse of the August Moon,” presented May 3-9, directed by Snavely with special assistance by George Matsumoto, professor in the State College School of Design, who was coach for Japanese language and customs. The choreography was by John Lehman of “The Lost Colony” staff. George Bireline, former RLT technical director, supervised the set design as a project for his State College design students. Leading roles were taken by Ted Powers, Bill Law and Megan Stuart. Helen Tucker of The Raleigh Times said the production “received the professional treatment … one has come to expect of the Raleigh Little Theatre.”
One of the more famous alumni of the RLT stage, Andy Griffith, showed up for a cast party May 30, 1957, during a visit to Raleigh for the premiere of his film “A Face in the Crowd.” Gov. Luther H. Hodges proclaimed May 31 Andy Griffith Day in North Carolina, and RLT members assisted Griffith in a program of monologues and songs at Reynolds Coliseum.
The Raleigh Little Theatre began its 1957-58 season by producing its first musical comedy, “The Pajama Game,” with music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. RLT had performed operas before, but ‘The Pajama Game” was the first venture into what has been called a uniquely American form of theatre. Alec Dantre, Mavis Allen, Jack Porter, Chee Davis and Lee Bailes played leading roles in the cast of 43, which included 28 newcomers to the Little Theatre stage.
Raymond Lowery of The News and Observer said “The Pajama Game” got RLT’s season “off to a bang-up beginning…. There will undoubtedly be a demand by local audiences for other such shows here in the near future.”
The credits for the first RLT musical included direction by Dick Snavely, choreography by James Leocarta, and sets by Jack Porter. Music was directed by Douglas Franklin and conducted by K. Hall. The musicians in the pit were Allene “Peaches” Lynn, the start of a long and distinguished career with RLT musicals; Dave Moffett. drums; and J. Paul Scott. bass. Costumes were by Ann Seltman and Mrs. Duncan Stuart.
A.C. Snow of The Raleigh Times said: “The Raleigh Little Theatre reached for the skies and came down with a stageful of stars and a sparkling production of the Broadway musical. … The established theatre group left little doubt as to the success of its ambitious undertaking…. Patrons last night were in general amazed at the polished performance they saw”.
Of the RLT’s director and choreographer, Snow said, “Faced with the almost impossible task of putting on a local production which requires singing, dancing, and acting from many of its principals, Snavely and Leocarta molded 43 performers, 19 scenes and 19 musical numbers into a smooth, polished, and professional-like company, which, in some respects, challenged portions of the Hollywood or Broadway treatment of the same musical.”
RLT chose as its second production of the season “Witness for the Prosecution” (December 3-8, 1957) with a cast of 30, featuring Ted Blakeway, George Hall, Dot Stowe, Bill Law and Ann Seltman. The Little Theatre went all-out in its effort to be authentic in staging the English courtroom drama. R. Hunt Parker, associate justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court and a student of English legal procedure, acted as an adviser, and Mike Hall, who was in charge of properties, sent to England for a copy of the London Times. A.C. Snow, reviewing the play for The Raleigh Times, said the drama had “the most fantastic triple-flip finish any play has ever known.”
“The Solid Gold Cadillac” (Feb. 3-9, 1958) called for another large cast. Nancy Stamey, director of the Children’s Theatre, headed the cast, along with Frank Cranor, Dick Barnes, Ed Kiley, and Max Warlick.
In his review in The Times, A.C. Snow commented on some of the impressive technical effects: “Newsreels and news commentaries, filmed and recorded locally, a revolving stage which permits the shifting of 14 scenes, and a commentary on the Cinderella story of Wall Street make ‘Cadillac’ one of the most unusual and unique productions ever to be staged here … probably the best-balanced work the theatre group has done this year.” To assure realism, Snavely had obtained permission to film one sequence in front of a Constellation airliner departing for New York, complete with photographers, interviewers and television cameramen.
“All My Sons,” winner of the 1947 Drama Critics Circle award, was presented April 18-23 at RLT. A.C. Snow’s review said: “‘All My Sons’ is the most powerful and professional performance to come from the stage of the Raleigh Little Theatre this season … a brilliant, intensely dramatic achievement which defies criticism. … Norman Larson as Chris Keller and Betty Dick as his mother, Kate, and Jack Porter as the father, head a cast as near-perfect as can be found on the community theatre stage.”
Once again, the Little Theatre was in the national spotlight in March 1958 with an article in Players Magazine about the theatre’s operation, program and equipment.
The season closed with “The Matchmaker” (May 6-11, 1958). The cast included K. Hall, Alec Dantre, George Thomason, Irwin Hochron, Carol Cohen, Kathy Wagner and Bill Dick. The Times called the production “a gilt-edged success.”
On May 27, 1958, Ainslie Pryor, 37, who had played a key role in developing the Raleigh Little Theatre, died of brain cancer in Hollywood’s Cedars of Lebanon Hospital. Pryor, who had been RLT director for seven years, was stricken while working on a Studio One television production and had appeared in five TV plays since undergoing brain surgery in December 1957. After leaving RLT in 1954, Pryor had gone to a distinguished career on the Broadway stage and in movies and TV. As a memorial to him, friends at the Raleigh Little Theatre donated a high-fidelity sound system, which was installed in time for use during the 1958-59 season.
That season opened with “Inherit the Wind,” the play based on the confrontation between William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow at the so-called “Scopes monkey trial” in Tennessee The huge cast of 53 members-26 of them new faces on the RLT stage-featured Bill Burton and John Robertson in key roles. In The Times, AC Snow wrote of their work: “Two giant performances emerged from the crowded stage-performances which were inclined to sublimate even the creditable work of the supporting cast.”
“The Seven-Year Itch” (December 2-7, 1958) starred Bill Law and Ann Dearing Lincoln in what The N&O called “a mildly diverting comic fantasy.”
A one-act play of “The Uncommon Man,” a play about the early manhood of President Andrew Johnson, was presented December 4, 1958, at the Sir Walter Hotel for the Society for the Preservation of Antiquities as part of Culture Week. Norman Larson directed and Marion Penny played the role of Andrew Johnson. A fulllength version of the play was given December 13 and 14 at the Little Theatre.
“Time Limit” (February 3-8, 1959) dramatized life in a Chinese Communist prison camp during the Korean War. In leading roles were Jack Porter, Ann Seltman, Harvey Bumgardner, Jill Settles and Charles Gaddy. Maj. Joseph O’Connor, who had been a prisoner of the Chinese Communists for 34 months, acted as adviser to assure that the production was technically accurate The Times’ reviewer found the play “powerful and explosive.”
“Visit to a Small Planet” (March 17-22, 1959) starred Hugh Overturf, Ted Davis, Mark Hawkins, Judy Cheatham, Mary Lyman and Bill Dick.
The season closed with “The Diary of Anne Frank,” its first production by a little theatre group. Writing in The News and Observer, Raymond Lowery said: “Happily, the Raleigh Little Theatre has found a pretty, child-like and charming young girl — Janet Gurkin — to portray Anne Frank, and as a result, the play is an ennobling experience for everyone who beholds it.” Also in the cast were Jack Porter, K. Hall, Ruth Green, George Hall, John Chappell, Vista Edwards and Dick Ellis.
A.C. Snow of The Raleigh Times noted that “The Diary of Anne Frank” brought a number of “firsts” to the Little Theatre: “‘Diary’ had the longest run in Raleigh Little Theatre’s history, an 11-day showing which exceeded by one day that of ‘Mister Roberts’ in 1953. Attendance of 2,696 also topped the previous record held by ‘Mister Roberts.’ Total box office take of $2,423 exceeded ‘Mister Roberts’ by $300.”
At the annual awards meeting, a new award for “the most service to the theatre” was received by Mrs. Mickey Hanula.
Jack Porter resigned as technical director to teach full time in the State College English department, and Karl Kreiner was named to succeed him. Kreiner, a graduate of Baylor University School of Drama, had served for three years as entertainment director for Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas.
The Little Theatre opened its 1959-60 season with “Oh, Men! Oh, Women!” on October 12 and won a rave from A.C. Snow in The Raleigh Times: “A sparkling, ribtickling comedy which is portent of another promising season at the Pogue Street theater … a brisk, tidy production.” The cast included Joan Taylor Munger, Bill Law, Ed Kiley, Billie Cook, Morton Bailey, Mary Lyman, Marion Penny and Jim Neal.
“Tea and Sympathy” (December 1-5, 1959) featured Mary Alice Tucker and Charles Trexler in leading roles. Supporting players included Billy Bland, Merle Kelly, Jim Neal and Harvey Horowitz. The Times reviewer wrote an “on-the-other-hand” report: “Neither the greatest success of the local theatre group, nor the most mediocre interpretation of Robert Anderson’s fine play.”
“Kind Sir” (February 2-7, 1960) offered performances by Barbara Kiley, Betty Dick, Carol Cohen, Morton Bailey, Charles Faust and Alton Buzbee. The Times’ reviewer relaxed: “The kind of light-hearted, unrealistic entertainment you can sit back and enjoy without too much thought.”
RLT thought big for its next production, “The Lark” (March 21-27, 1960), Lillian Hellman’s adaptation of Jean Anouilh’s play. For the first time, a student at St. Mary’s College played the lead in a Little Theatre play She was Pamela Wright, in the leading role of Joan of Arc. Others in the cast included Jack Porter, Morton Bailey, Bill Law, Nick Pond, Charles Faust, Karl Kreiner, Jill Settles, Margaret Burns, Norman Larson, Betty Lokey, Jack Ingram and James Neal. Dietmar Viebrock, a student from Germany, appeared as the Executioner and Mike Hall was a Scribe.
An obscure actor named Guy Munger made his RLT debut as the Archbishop of Rheims. (He also contributed a footnote to theatrical history. The set was a series of platforms with no curtain. The cast exited during blackouts. Munger, who was — and is — near-sighted was, of course, playing the role without his usual spectacles. To avoid tripping over his crosier and knocking his miter askew by tripping on the steps during a hurried exit, the archbishop simply dropped to his hands and knees and scurried offstage like a frightened ecclesiastical mouse. And made it every performance before lights came up for the intermission.) As for the critics, Ed Rowland of The Raleigh Times was direct: “It is magnificent.”
Winding up the season was “Gigi” (May 10-15, 1960), featuring Judy Cheatham, Jeannette Webb, Sonia Friedman, Steve Stephenson, Max Warlick, Ethel Tilley and Marian Fernando. The N&O said the Little Theatre “tops its season nicely with a well-staged production.”
The Raleigh Little Theatre opened its 25th anniversary year with the Lerner and Loewe musical “Paint Your Wagon” (October 18-23). The cast included Jan Westmoreland, Carolyn Myers and John Witty. Raymond Lowery of The News and Observer said: “A fine season lies ahead for the Raleigh Little Theatre … if ‘Paint Your Wagon’ is indicative of what is to come.”
The Green Room reception after the Patrons’ Preview assumed added importance because of the silver anniversary celebration. The Green Room was transformed into a silver and red “salon” and a huge white and silver cake was the focal point of the table decorations. Hosts to the cast and 250 patrons were Mr. and Mrs. Josephus Daniels Jr., Mr. and Mrs. James Thiem, Mr. and Mrs. Clifton Beckwith, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Morris, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Rouse, Mr. and Mrs. Paul Tillery, Mrs. Davetta Steed and Mrs. Bette Elliott.
RLT turned to the classics for its second production, presenting Moliere’s comedy “The Imaginary Invalid” December 6-11, 1960. Heading the cast were Norman Larson and Corinne Newman. The N&O said: “The current production seems proof that the theatre of Moliere is as alive as ever.”
The Little Theatre’s next play “Look Homeward, Angel” (February 2-11) became one of the all-time favorites of RLT audiences, The play by Ketti Frings was, of course, based on the famous novel of the same name by Asheville-born Thomas Wolfe. The cast included Steve Stephenson, Jeannette Webb, Morton Bailey, Harvey Bumgardner, Helen Crisp, Isaac Littleton, Charles Faust, Joan Taylor Munger, Vicki O’Brien, Faye Corbett, Betty Gregory, Lena Fox, Ben Haas, Foil Essick, Nancetta Hudson, Carol Cohen, Harry Dorsett, Norwood Massey, and John Fox.
The critics’ raves thawed the cold February night. Roy Parker Jr. in The News and Observer: “A finely tuned troupe of Raleigh Little Theatre players made a cold Thursday night sing with ‘Look Homeward, Angel’.” Betty Hood of The Raleigh Times: “Packed with the poetic language of Thomas Wolfe, last night’s production of ‘Look Homeward, Angel’ moved with the ease and swiftness of Wolfe’s own words.”
“The Gazebo” (March 14-19, 1961) featured performances by AI Mozley, Dr. Larry Mettler, Dick Kennison, Art Anderson, Lloyd Hardy, Gloria Collins, Charlie Mosely, Liz Herring, Mary Lyman, Ted Davis, Joe Wise and George Georgis. Joan Brock of The N&O called the production “as warm and refreshing as the first April shower.” Gov. and Mrs. Terry Sanford were special guests at the Patron’s Preview performance and reception.
The regular season closed with William Inges drama “The Dark at the Top of the Stairs.” A.C. Snow of The Times said of the production: “Director Dick Snavely has assembled the most completely able and the most nearly flawless cast in recent RLT history.” That cast included Mark Ramsey, Janet Gurkin, George Brenholtz, Barbara White, Mike Silver and Mary Lyman, of whom reviewer Snow said: “She sends the audience into gales of laughter one moment and, in another, brings them face to face with the stark realism of a passionless marriage that outwardly appears to be ideal.”
RLT opened its 1961-62 season October 12 with “The Pleasure of His Company.” The cast included Bill Morgan, Charles Billings, Pat Umenhofer, Helen Crisp, Morton Bailey, Merle Kelly and Jimmy Thiem. A feature story in The News and Observer preceding the opening reviewed the theatrical experience of one cast member and was headlined “The Many Faces of Raleigh’s Jimmy Thiem,” complete with photographs of Thiem made up for five roles and as himself. As for “The Pleasure of His Company,” The Times reviewer said “it was some of the best fastpaced dialogue comedy seen in these parts.”
“Five-Finger Exercise” (December 1-9, 1961) “carries on the Little Theatre’s long established policy of tackling a number of challenging plays each season.” The cast included Jeff Chandler, Mary Jane Wells, Guy Munger, Sharon Canning and Art Anderson.
“The Waltz of the Toreadors” (February 2-10, 1962) had a cast that included Merle Kelly, Lloyd Hardy, Carol Cohen, Diana Maupin, Ed Kiley and Julia Ribet. “An enjoyable evening,” said The N&O.
“The Andersonville Trial” (March 15-26, 1962) again brought out the men in force with a cast of 28 men and no women. Leading roles were played by Charles Barret, Norman Larson, Douglas Dudley and Morton Bailey “Started slowly and built to a tremendous climax,” said The Times.
“A Majority of One” (May 10-19, 1962) featured several veteran performers — Mary Lyman, Hugh Overturf, Carol Cohen, John Fox and Bill Morgan — and a number of newcomers like Doris Dworsky, Joe Mobley and June Preston. “A warm-hearted comedy and a lesson in tolerance,” said The N&O.
Thom Feuerstein resigned as technical director at the end of the season to become director of the new Lynchburg, Virginia, Little Theatre, and was succeeded by Charles Ganzer of Holyoke, Massachusetts, who had been with the Holyoke Players there.
The pattern of the Dick Snavely years at the Raleigh Little Theatre had by now become apparent-an almost steady succession of hits, professionally directed, staged and performed. It had become obvious that Snavely, who performed frequently as a professional magician, knew how to bring a bit of sorcery to the stage.
“Bells Are Ringing” (October 21-28,1962) featured performances by Jeff Moss, Mary Lyman, Honey Lucas, Joyce Cole, Merle Kelly, George Georgis and Jon Kovach. The Raleigh Times said of the musical: “Things were never merrier in the Pogue Street building.”
“Write Me A Murder” (December 3-9, 1962) featured Eugene Hollahan and Katie Ganzer in leading roles. “Engrossing and fun,” said The N&O.
“Roman Candle” (February 4-10, 1963) had some RLT veterans in lead roles: Marion Penny, Ed Kiley and Carol Cohen. The N&O said” ‘Roman Candle’ lifts eagerly off the pad and leaves in its wake a flurry of laugh sparks.”
“All the Way Home” (March 18-24, 1963) had a cast that included Jean Vinson, Charles Wason, Nancy Crouse, Lee Dworsky, Orville Barnes, Rita Barnes, Jeannette Webb, Lloyd Hardy, Art Anderson and William Johnson Jr.
“Come Blow Your Horn” (May 13-19, 1963) featured Chuck Billings, Merle Kelly, Morton Bailey, Doris Dworsky, Sara Meekins and Nancy Crouse. “Brassy and glittering,” said The Raleigh Times. Bette Elliott wrote in her column in The Times that director Dick Snavely had checked the laughs in the play and reported: “There were 247 of ’em. And that didn’t count the chuckles. These were full rolling laughs.”
The 1963-64 season opened with the Leonard Bernstein musical “Wonderful Town” (October 14-20, 1963) starring Mary Jane Wells, Honey Lucas, George Austin and a host of RLT veterans. “Moments of theater magic,” said The Times. As with so many of the brilliant musicals presented by the Little Theatre in these years, Richard Southwick was the musical director and Peaches Lynn was the pianist.
“Blood, Sweat and Stanley Poole” (November 20-27, 1963) featured Morton Bailey, Jim Frisby and Mike Silver. “Superb,” said The N&O
“Ah Wilderness!” (February 2-9, 1964) had a cast that included Mark Ramsey, Chuck Wason, Jean Wason, Mary Lyman, Helen Crisp, Howell Peele and Trip Plymale. “‘Ah Wilderness!’ was ‘Ah, good,'” The N&O critic wrote.
“Liliom” (March 15-22, 1964) featured RLT veterans Norman Larson, Ann Thompson, Barbara Ann Simpson, Jeannette Webb and Art Anderson. “Brims with bright acting in a somewhat creeping 20th century classic,” said The N&O.
“Take Her, She’s Mine” (May 11-17, 1964) closed the regular season with Morton Bailey and Betty Dick in leading roles. “Mediocre” play but “superlative” acting, The N&O critic wrote.
During the season it was announced that a $50,000 renovation job would be done on the Little Theatre building and that RLT would ask the City of Raleigh for a 10-year lease on the building.
The 1964-65 Raleigh Little Theatre season opened with Sandy Wilson’s spoof of old-fashioned 1920s musical comedy, “The Boy Friend” (opening October 22, 1964) starred Jeanne Smith, Trip Plymale, Barbara Ann Simpson, Alice Ann Horne, Mary Lyman, Lloyd Hardy and Jim Harvey, “The Raleigh Little Theatre rollicked into the new season,” said Junius Grimes of The N&O.
“Major Barbara” (opening December 3, 1964) had Sharon Canning Lentz and Edgar Daniels in leading roles. Daniels, a professional actor from New York, also directed the Shaw play, “A major success,” said The Raleigh Times.
“A Thousand Clowns” opened February 4, 1965 with a cast that included Bill Law, Melissa Shuping, Dick Johnson, Perry Turner, Mike Shankle and Bob Weems. “A delightful sequence of laugh-every-other-minute comedy,” said The N&O.
“A Man for All Seasons” (opening March 17, 1965) featured Hugh Overturf, Morton Bailey, Joan Taylor Munger, Harry Callahan, Jean Wason, Bill Johnson, Jim Harvey, Dick Snavely, Bobby Bryant, Ed Anderson, Lloyd Kay, Rita Barnes and Orville Barnes. Susan Lewis of The News and Observer called it “a treat for all playgoers.”
For the first time, RLT scheduled two musicals in one season, closing the year with Kurt Weill’s “The Threepenny Opera.” The cast included John Miller, Alec Dantre, John Foy, Judy Cobb, Virginia Tharrington and Mary Lyman. “Basically it was a strong presentation,” said Sidney Stapleton of The Raleigh Times.
Major offstage development had occurred during the year at the Raleigh Little Theatre.
After many years of service, Rebecca Gill retired as office secretary and was succeeded by Helen George.
Charles Ganzer resigned as technical director and was succeeded by Harry Callahan, a native of New Jersey and former assistant designer at the East Carolina College Playhouse.
And, by no means least the theatre had embarked on a $130,000 program of renovations and additions. Remodeling of the auditorium and lobby had been completed by the time “The Threepenny Opera” opened. Still ahead was a complete remodeling of the basement area of the theatre and construction of a new wing with space for workshop and new dressing rooms.
During the Snavely years, the Little Theatre had been presenting a full summer program, usually three plays done arena style on the grassy stage of the amphitheatre. In the summer of ’65 only one production was offered, Tennessee Williams’ “Summer and Smoke,” and that was done inside the theatre, in newly in· stalled air·conditioned comfort. Jean Vinson and Art Anderson had leading roles. The N&O’s headline said: “Little Theatre Gives Fire to ‘Summer and Smoke.'”
The regular 1965-66 season opened with an ambitious production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “The King and I.” It was expensive — about $7,000 in production costs. “We knew it would be expensive,” Snavely told The Raleigh Times. “We wanted to do it right and at the same time spend our money wisely. We are pleased with the results.” John Miller and his wife Helen took leading roles and their two children, Amanda and Johnny, were among the Siamese children in the cast. Twelve children were in the play and Snavely triplecast their parts so the youngsters appeared every third performance. A total of 107 children tried out for the 36 roles. The Times commented editorially: “A beautiful production in all respects.”
“Never Too Late” (opening December 2, 1965) starred Morton Bailey, Betty Dick, Jeannette Webb and Norwood Massey — all RLT veterans. “A rollicking evening,” said The Times. Bailey was forced to leave the cast after becoming ill during the run and was replaced by Carlyle Horner who, in turn, suffered a cut in an on-stage mishap but was able to continue after time out for first aid.
“Rain” (opening Feb. 3, 1966) had Sharon Lentz and Irving Kaye in leading roles. “Another success,” said The Technician, student newspaper at N.C. State.
“The Importance of Being Earnest” (opening March 24, 1966) by Oscar Wilde featured two guest performers, Ty Stephens and David Lampson, along with RLT regulars like Gurdine Bliss and Anne League.
“Life With Father” (opening May 12, 1966) was “a barrel of fun,” said The Times. Featured were Morton Bailey, Mary Lyman, Lloyd Hardy and — as the red-haired Day boys — Mark Ramsey, Fred Corlett, Jimmy Williams and David Munger.
The 1966-67 regular RLT season, Dick Snavely’s last as director, opened with the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “South Pacific” October 19,1967. Harry Callahan took over as director after Snavely had to take time off because of illness. The N&O said the opening-night performance lacked “oomph” but “promises to be an unqualified hit.” The Times called the show “lusty fun.” Featured in the large cast were Jay Gervasi and Janice Ardell. The large supporting case included Sally Rea, Lloyd Trafton and Roland Lashley.
“The Rope Dancers” (opening November 30, 1966) featured Tom Worthington, Margaret Burns and Lou Vigneault. Bill Morrison of The N&O said: “If the play isn’t ultimately satisfying fare, the performances are strong theatrical drink.”
“The Private Ear and the Public Eye,” two comedies by Peter Shaffer, opened February 2, 1967, with Art Anderson featured in both plays Morrison of The N&O concluded it was “devastating” — as in wonderfuL
“J.B.” (opening March 29, 1967) had Corinne Newman, Terry Chronaki and Margaret Burns in leading roles. “Undeniably a work of art,” said Sally Buckner, reviewing for The Times.
Dick Snavely wound up his directing career at RLT with “Riverwind,” a musical featuring Doris Boggs, Lois Holland, Wade Holland, Jim Lineberger, Jane Frazier, Kathi Folden and Mike Silver. As with so many RLT musicals, Dick Southwick directed the pit orchestra and Peaches Lynn was at the piano.
After 12 seasons as director of the Little Theatre and two years as technical director, Dick Snavely resigned to join the directing staff of WUNC-TV. In an interview with The Raleigh Times, he looked back over those years and concluded that being RLT director is “the best job in Raleigh and one of the best theatre jobs in the southeastern United States.”
“A director’s job is never dull,” Snavely said. “Someone has said theatre is a series of crises linked together by opening nights and that’s true. There is no necessary pattern.”
Looking ahead for RLT, Snavely said: “The theatre has an outstanding new physical plant that’s a joy to work in, and a well-organized. responsible board of directors. Everything is there. Now it’s up to them.”
The annual awards night in May 1967 turned into a tribute to Dick Snavely and his wife Dot.
Raleigh businessman James Thiem, self-styled “oldest active and inactive” member of RLT said Snavely was “one of the hardest workers ever. No one has put so much study into what it takes to run theatre and put on good productions.”
Cantey Sutton, first lady of the Raleigh Little Theatre, said: “We enjoyed the privilege of having Dick Snavely for 14 years. He grew in his direction along with the theatre’s image. He’s proven we have some fine local talent that really can do Broadway shows. And in his direction, he’s always been very beloved by the cast and also the membership.”
Harry Callahan, RLT technical director, called Snavely “the man I respect more than anyone else I’ve worked with in the theatre.”
Peyton Woodson, who was winding up his term as RLT president, presented Snavely a check for $300. Mary Lyman, the only actress to win three performance awards in a row, gave him a white boutonniere, and Joan Taylor Munger, whom Snavely had directed in several shows, recalled the time he gave a special magic performance for her ill daughter: “He said he just couldn’t stand to see kids like that, sick kids who couldn’t run and play. He almost wept. That tells you all you have to know about the kind of guy he is.”
The evening was a kind of love feast, with speeches, laughter and more than a few tears. It was also the prelude to one of the most troubled periods in the Raleigh Little Theatre’s history.