Monday, June 22, 2009

Exeunt the 'Wisecracking Lion'

Hap Erstein's eulogie for Shelly Gross is a fitting tribute for a major theatre producer.
A compulsive entertainer, he began as a radio and television personality in his native Philadelphia, before becoming a prolific producer of Broadway shows and national tours. Never one to shy away from a challenge, he frequently produced major musicals headlined by some of the theater’s biggest, and most hard to handle, stars, such folks as Yul Brynner, Robert Goulet, Shirley MacLaine and Carol Channing.
Shelly Gross, with partner Lee Guber, founded the Valley Forge Music Fair, in Devon, Pennsylvania.  It grew into a chain of "Music Fair" venues: the Westbury in Long Island, the Shady Grove outside of Washington DC, and the Painter's Mill outside of Baltimore.  They produced shows featuring well-known stars, and served as a launching pad for actors, and directors such as Michael Bennett.

I actually built sets for the Valley Forge Music Fair, although I never had the pleasure to meet Mr. Gross.  The theater's closing in 1997 was felt across the industry.  It was like learning that Mount Rushmore had collapsed.

Click through to read the entire eulogy.

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