PlayhouseSquare Honors Five Individuals Key to Rescue and Rebirth of Historic Theaters
PlayhouseSquare presented its President’s Award to David O. Frazier, Joseph J. Garry, Jr., Elaine G. Hadden, Raymond K. Shepardson and posthumously to William F. Miller on June 27th during the organization’s annual President’s Reception in the State Theatre.
These individuals were recognized for their vision, commitment and significant contributions to the saving of the historic theaters of PlayhouseSquare. “Without Ray, Bill, Lainie, Joe and David, there would be no PlayhouseSquare today,” stated Art J. Falco, PlayhouseSquare President and CEO. “Many individuals and institutions played important roles in saving our beautiful theaters, but this core group was the catalyst for the rescue and rebirth, embracing and persevering toward what many believed to be a crazy and unachievable dream.”
For 40 years, Bill Miller was one of Cleveland’s most passionate and charismatic journalists. He spent 15 of those years covering the efforts to save PlayhouseSquare’s theaters. On May 25, 1972, his front-page story in The Plain Dealer, announcing the imminent demolition of the State and Ohio theaters, galvanized the support of the community, and particularly, the support of Lainie Hadden and the Junior League. Miller’s widow, Marianne, accepted the award on his behalf.
Joe Garry directed and cast the historic two and a half year run of Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris in the lobby of the State Theatre, which served as the spark to an artistic engine that continues to drive PlayhouseSquare. He is now the host of the organization’s popular Broadway Buzz Pre-Show Talks, for which he is fondly referred to “America’s theater professor.” In his remarks, Garry noted, “The greatest award is standing in the lobby, or out on the street, watching audience members and thousands of school children attend performances here.”
David Frazier has collaborated with Joe in life and on stage for more than 40 years, creating 15 original scripts and performing in theaters from New York to Bombay to Budapest, on land and on sea. Often thought to be Jacques Brel, his powerful, spine-tingling delivery of the songs “Amsterdam” and “The Bulls” is still remembered by those who sat, enthralled, at the cabaret tables in the State Lobby. David has played more than 150 leading roles and was honored with a lifetime achievement award by Cleveland Play House, from which he took a leave of absence to aid in the saving of PlayhouseSquare’s theaters.
One of Northeast Ohio’s most respected civic leaders and philanthropists, Lainie Hadden was President of the Junior League at a crucial time in PlayhouseSquare’s history. Five days after that front page article written by Bill Miller, she led the Junior League’s members to vote in favor of contributing $25,000 to delay the wrecking ball, and her husband influenced five others to match that contribution dollar for dollar. The Haddens contributed much of their time and their own money, to the project, and Lainie has continued to be a champion of PlayhouseSquare. “Dreams that you dare to dream really do come true,” quoted Hadden from “Over the Rainbow.” She went on to say, “Thank you for honoring me for the best thing I’ve ever done.”
Call it luck or call it fate, Ray Shepardson was undoubtedly in the right place at the right time when, as an employee of the Cleveland Board of Education, he was looking for a suitable meeting space for teachers and came across a series of abandoned theaters. With incredible foresight and vision, he believed that restoring and revitalizing those theaters would transform downtown Cleveland. His powers of persuasion convinced others that the theaters were an irreplaceable resource. Following a grueling seven-year run of presenting 200-300 performances each year before the theaters were fully restored, Shepardson went on to play starring roles in theater restoration projects in Columbus, Detroit and St. Louis, and has consulted on more than 35 major restoration projects all over the country.
“40 years later, that crazy notion of saving the theaters, which many questioned and even ridiculed, the vision that others could not see, has resulted in the largest performing arts center in America outside of the Lincoln Center in New York City. From those humble beginnings, PlayhouseSquare now has an annual attendance of one million guests and generates well over $60 million for the local economy annually,” concluded Falco. “On behalf of the PlayhouseSquare staff, board and volunteers, and I think I can speak for the community, downtown Cleveland and for all of the audiences and students that have been touched by attending performances in our beautiful theaters—we thank our honorees for their vision, passion, commitment and perhaps a little hutzpah.”
The PlayhouseSquare President’s Award has been established to recognize members of the Northeast Ohio community whose leadership, perseverance and dedication have contributed to the success of PlayhouseSquare.