Pass under the glittering lights of the marquees and it’s easy to forget that 50 years ago this grand complex had a date with the wrecking ball. That death knell was silenced by Ray Shepardson and his 1970s campaign to save the theaters.
The result is nearly 50 years of moments to remember.
We’ve watched a cavalcade of luminaries like Tony Bennett, Bob Dylan and Diana Ross take center stage. I’ve had the chance to see a litany of unforgettable shows — including Jesus Christ Superstar and Hamilton.
My husband and I still joke about “our theatrical debut” 10 years ago during a performance of Hair. Before the finale, cast members invited the audience to join them on stage. When an actor approached us, we demurely shook our heads and shrank into our seats. But refusal wasn’t an option. Before we knew it, we were joyously clapping, swaying and singing “Let the Sun Shine In” on stage like we belonged up there.
That light of inclusion continues to beam brightly at Playhouse Square.
“Ray and I would walk through these theaters together while they were being restored,” says retired Cleveland State University theater professor Joe Garry. “Ray would say, ‘I see great stars being on this stage. What do you see?’ And I’d say, ‘I see young faces in the audience.’”
Playhouse Square is proof positive that dreams can and do come true, especially when we’re gathered together under the light of a giant chandelier.
Linda Feagler joined Cleveland Magazine in 1995. Now a freelance writer, she has served as Playhouse Square’s playbill editor for 16 seasons.