Earlier this week, the Playhouse archives received an email from Noel Coward scholar Michael Menzies recounting his very first experience with the Pasadena Playhouse in the unlikeliest of places – the other side of the world. Surprisingly, the archives didn’t contain any record of the following events. So, to shed some light on this all but forgotten piece of Playhouse history and entertain our blog readers, Mr. Menzies has kindly allowed us to post his email.
In 1949, I was fourteen years old and living with my family in Auckland, New Zealand. At that time there was no professional theatre in the country at all, and the Pasadena Playhouse sent a company of players for a six month season at a converted cinema, known as the Prince Edward.
Their first production was Sam Benelli’s The Jest (a curious choice for a city that had little theatre). This was followed by a Moss Hart play, Light Up the Sky (about the blitz in London - a theme more suited to New Zealand, which had supplied both men and food to England and her allies). I am not totally sure this was the second production - it has become a little muddled in my mind... it may have been The Little Shop Around the Corner, or Angel Pavement, both of which I believe the Pasadena players performed. Then came the most successful production of the engagement: Charley’s Aunt.
At the time there was a world-wide polio scare, and children were denied access to public gatherings - we had to attend correspondence school. I was devastated at the time, since I was unable to attend any performances and theatre had already become what turned into a life long passion.
I wrote to members of the company - I recall the names Gabriel Boyne and Molly Rayner, and asked for autographs and photos of the players. Instead, I received an invitation from actress Molly Raynor to watch Charley’s Aunt from the flies of the theatre. I was in heaven - or at least the flies!
My parents agreed to this ruse to avoid a public gathering and drove me to the theatre, delivered me backstage, and bought tickets for themselves to attend the matinee performance.
I can’t recall later productions at the Prince Edward, an awkward and inconvenient location for a live theatre company doomed to fail - my memory of the Pasadena Players in New Zealand ends with that performance.
Congratulations on the success of Can-Can, and may good and continuing fortune stay with you.