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Friday, September 4, 2015

Why, After 57 Years, is Cleveland Metroparks Closing Huntington Playhouse?

Posted By on Fri, Sep 4, 2015 at 9:17 AM

click to enlarge Lisa and Tim Hirzel in "My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra" - HUNTINGTON PLAYHOUSE FACEBOOK
  • Huntington Playhouse Facebook
  • Lisa and Tim Hirzel in "My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra"
Fair Question.

After all, the Huntington Playhouse is a community theater, beloved of Bay Village residents, the musical-theater set in the far west side suburbs and the many regional organizations that have hosted fundraisers there.  

But if you ask Brian Zimmerman or Metroparks spokespeople, the "safety concerns, unpaid bills, and productions that were paid for but never produced" left them no other choice.

Parks officials told Plain Dealer reporter James Ewinger that they made the decision to shutter the 57-year-old community theater on their Huntington Reservation on Lake Road in Bay Village "reluctantly."


The remainder of the Playhouse's 2015 season — "My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra," through this weekend; "Death by Design"; "The Addams Family Musical"; and a TBA Holiday Show — will continue as planned, perilous "safety concerns" notwithstanding. 

(The Metroparks have not, as yet, responded to requests for clarification regarding the safety concerns or the quantity of the unpaid bills).  

In Ewinger's report, new Metroparks spokesperson Kelly Manderfield (another marketing department personality), said that $755 was the "oldest invoice." Zimmerman alleged that there were $1200 owed in water and sewer service. It's unclear, for instance, if the $755 is part of that $1200 or if it's an additional bill. Either way, these are meaningful quantities for a nonprofit arts organization.  And “nonprofit arts organization isn't co-terminous with "struggling" 'round these parts, but orgs like the Huntington Playhouse are on rockier financial terrain than the monolithic Metroparks, which receives $73 million every year from county homeowners.

The Huntington Playhouse has struggled. Through poor management and/or bad luck, it's had to cancel shows in the past few years, and area organizations that have subsidized small portions of production costs with fundraisers — the Kiwanis Club and the Lake Erie Nature and Science Center are the two mentioned by Ewinger — said that they never got their $350 back. 

Tom Meyrose, the Playhouse's Executive Director, has been extremely quiet in the wake of the news. He did not respond to Scene's request for comment, and has turned down other media outlets as well. Lisa Hirzel, current cast member in "My Way: A Musical Tribute Frank Sinatra," said she suspects it's because this is an emotional time for him. 

"He has done every season for 44 years, never missed one," Hirzel told Scene. "He got married there. His kids got married there. It’s his home. He is a passionate director and I will personally miss working for him." 

Hirzel said that despite the somber news, the cast and crew of the current production remain upbeat, in part because of the hugely supportive crowds. 

"The music of Frank Sinatra sometimes fits the situation a little too perfectly," she said, "and other times it’s just silly enough to make everyone forget and just enjoy an evening of great music."

Despite support in the community and lots of "sadness" from regulars at the news, there hasn't yet been a significant social media groundswell to, for example, "Save Huntington Playhouse." Timid vows of support from residents can be seen on Bay Village community Facebook groups, but the threads' louder rumblings, already, are concerned with what will take the Playhouse's Space. A library perhaps? (Early conversations — hush hush — have already begun, say residents in the know.)

For his part, Brian Zimmerman said it's way too premature to even speculate what might go there.  

Probably another restaurant, suggest cynics. 
Still, when Hirzel was asked what supporters can do to help, her response was simple. 

"Support the actors onstage, and make the need for a theatre known," she said. "Buy a ticket." 

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