The Sierra Madre Playhouse History
Evolution of a Theatre
The Sierra Madre Playhouse has evolved from a theatrical heritage that stretches back to the days when Sierra Madre was just a tiny village. Residents presented dramas and musicals as early as the 1880s in their homes, in the Town Hall, and in the Woman’s Club.
Then in 1923, the structure presently housing the Sierra Madre Playhouse was built. During the ensuing years, it has served as the focal point of the city’s family entertainment center, whether as a movie house, an arcade, or most recently, a theatre.
Its names have changed, as well as its functions. It was the “Wistaria Theater” when it first opened, but by 1929 it became the “Sierra Madre Theatre.”
When Charles Andrese and Cheryl Pertile founded a new Arcadia theatrical operation in 1980, it was initially called the “Playback Players” to reflect their intention to specialize in some of the older, classic plays. When they moved to the present location later that year, their premiere Sierra Madre production was “Moby Dick-Rehearsed,” written by the famed late Orson Welles. Since this was hardly an “old classic,” the group renamed itself the “Sierra Madre Playhouse.” Soon, Stan Zalas came to the Playhouse as artistic director. He and Andrese, who became general manager, built a solid reputation for providing quality entertainment and culturally sound family theater fare. Stan passed away in 1977 and Charles in 2009.
As with most community theaters, the Sierra Madre Playhouse has often been in tight financial straits. To support the theater, a small group of dedicated local citizens spearheaded a campaign in 1995 to assist the Playhouse, with George Enyedi and Lee and Barbara Cline playing lead roles. The Playhouse reorganized and became a non-profit corporation. A Board of Directors was formed in 1996 comprising nine dedicated community volunteers and theater lovers.
Each season-which runs from January through the following December, The Playhouse presents six to eight events, featuring well-written comedies, musicals, and intriguing mysteries. More serious dramas are interspersed occasionally. All are family oriented, and they showcase a repertoire remarkably varied for a community theater.
Three highlights have occurred in the recent history of The Playhouse: a centennial, a renovation, and a financial coup. The hundredth production was marked with a lavish centenary weekend in March 1993. A parade along Sierra Madre Boulevard was led by the mythical Sierra Madre College Band and an entourage of vintage cars bearing the cast of “Dames at Sea” and special guests.
The vintage autos provided photo ops for patrons who added dazzle by arriving garbed in seagoing attire circa 1930, or black tie.
Then in 1998 an extensive renovation of the theater was under-written by donations from many friends of the Sierra Madre Playhouse. Numerous improvements in lighting, sound, and decor updated the venue. New hardwood floors in the widened foyer, recessed lighting, new carpeting, and fresh paint created an attractive ambience. But to patrons, the most appreciated improvements probably were the plush, deep-red auditorium seats. No longer did people bring along their own cushions to make sitting through plays more comfortable!
The third moment of self-congratulation came in 2000, with a champagne opening and ribbon cutting to celebrate the collection of the full down payment toward purchase of the building. This, too, was accomplished through the support of loyal friends of the Sierra Madre Playhouse who raised more than $47,000. Efforts to completely pay off the debt continue.
An Equity-waiver theater with ninety-nine seats, the Playhouse attracts both union and non-union actors of the finest caliber. The SMP can even boast a one-time performance in the 1982-83 season by Oscar-winner Tom Hanks, who filled in for a friend in Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park.”
Many of Neil Simon’s and Agatha Christie’s successes have been produced at the Playhouse. A few plays have enjoyed return engagements through the years. Weightier scripts include “The Madwoman of Chaillot,” “Rashoman,” “The Lion in Winter,” “The Miracle Worker,” “Steel Magnolias,” “Caine Mutiny Court Martial,” “All My Sons,” “The Member of the Wedding,” “The Innocents,” and “Golden Boy.”
“Oliver,” “Dames At Sea,” “The Fantasticks,” “Sound of Music,” “Spitfire Grill,” “Putting it Together” and “Side by Side by Sondheim,” and “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” are among the musicals which have been offered. Favorites at the holiday season are “Scrooge” and various versions of “A Christmas Carol.”
The Playhouse is located in the charming foothill village of Sierra Madre, and attracts patrons numbering more than 8,000 from throughout the San Gabriel Valley and nearby cities. Most productions are presented on Friday and Saturday evenings, and Sunday matinees. Group events are welcomed.
While honoring the traditions of its long history, the Sierra Madre Playhouse has also entered into the modern age with e-mail and Website facilities. These conveniences are just one more way in which the Playhouse serves the needs of the clientele of today and tomorrow.
Sierra Madre Playhouse
87 West Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre, CA 91024
Reservations and Information: 626.355.4318
Group Rates: 626.836.2125
Information, credit card sales: www.sierramadreplayhouse.org
Smaller playhouses like ours can lose performance rights should a larger venue in the area wish to perform that play at the same time. This makes all schedules subject to change.