By Bill Reed
Inquirer Staff Writer
After rescuing the iconic Bucks County Playhouse from a year of dormancy, the new owners and operators are aiming to light up the New Hope stage for a May fund-raiser, two summer plays, and a Christmas holiday show.
"I can't imagine what it was like in 1939," when playwright Moss Hart put on the first show, Springtime for Henry, after converting the decaying 18th-century gristmill, Broadway producer Jed Bernstein said Tuesday. "It will be pretty exciting when the lights blaze on again.
"The enthusiasm of the community will get us off to a fast start," said Bernstein, who will live in the county while maintaining his Above the Title Entertainment office in New York City. "That's how we can make this theater blaze in glory again."
Since Kevin and Sherri Daugherty of Doylestown bought the theater Dec. 23, they have enlisted Bernstein as producing director, hired Tanya Cooper to run their Bridge Street Foundation, picked an engineer, and talked to contractors about repairs.
"Our first projects are to get open for a shortened summer season," Kevin Daugherty said. "We need to repair the roof" and make the bathrooms accessible for the handicapped. "We have a June deadline for construction to stage shows in July and August."
Bernstein said he would not name the shows until next month, but annual memberships are being sold on the theater's website, www.bcptheater.org.
"The main points are that there will be a return to Equity status, a return to live music - not that all shows will be musicals, but when it's appropriate - and it will be open year-round," Bernstein said.
"Our goal is 1,000 members in the first year," he added.
Annual memberships will cost $80 for individuals, $160 for families, and $500 for businesses. Members will get first chance at tickets for performances, plus discounts on tickets, parking, and concessions, and at local businesses.
"So many people have told us they want to be involved," Bernstein said. "The only way we can get home is to make everybody feel vested in this theater."
The Bridge Street Foundation, which paid less than the $2.1 million asking price for the playhouse, has provided enough funding "to get us started," Bernstein said. "We'll need financial support from the community to make it sustainable." A fund-raising gala is planned for May or early June, Bernstein said. Once a construction schedule is set, more details will be released, he said.
Standing on the stage overlooking the theater's 434 worn red seats, Bernstein sounded ready to write the next chapter of the playhouse where Neil Simon tried out two plays - Come Blow Your Horn and Barefoot in the Park (then titled Nobody Loves Me) - on their way to Broadway, and where Harvey debuted.
"Everybody knows about Grace Kelly" performing here, he said, "but this was where Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy made their first appearance together on stage."
The playhouse won't be in full swing until next January. Bernstein hopes it will then be open "365 days a year" with community theater productions, drama classes, and "a town council meeting once in a while.
"I expect to be overwhelmed with the demand."
Contact staff writer Bill Reed at 215-801-2964, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @breedbucks on Twitter.