Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Playhouse Square: Take a Hike Walking Tours

Once again I find myself in a suburb of Pittsburgh. Once again I took a parting taste of Cleveland culture before heading East.

In this case, a friend* and I met up with 30 or 40 other people in the lobby of Playhouse Square's State Theatre for "Take a Hike Cleveland"'s walking tour of the theatre district. I wasn't sure what to expect, but as both of us are outsiders (non-natives) I was sure that there would be some interest tidbits along the way.

And there were. Early in the tour there was some information that wasn't new to me (namely that Jaques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris played the State Theatre lobby for 2 years, and the mural "Spirit of Cinema: America" appearing on the cover of Life Magazine and being credited as one of the catalysts for Playhouse Square's revival) but was new to my friend. As the tour progressed, though, a wealth of details were revealed.

Among memorable highlights--of which there are too many to completely list here: The planters along Euclid Avenue are designed to look like a bouquet offering the flowers within to passersby; the abstract figures adorning the RTA Healthline station are intended to be evocative the silhouette of a chorus line [I had always guessed palm trees and could never figure out the placement], that there are two theatres that didn't survive into the modern Playhouse Square era, and, of course, details on the glorious revitalization of neighborhood buildings and their historic tenants.

Also intriguing were the two character actors who made appearances: Alan Freed explaining his role in coining the term Rock and Roll at WJW radio--well known--as well as the background of the record store owner sponsoring his show to play rock to stimulate sales to a new demographic--something that I did not know. Even more fascinating, the appearance of the Hanna Theater's** long-time general manager "Mr. First Night": I for one was utterly blown away by the history--and history of American Theater embodied by that oft-overlooked venue on East 14th street. (Did you know that Rogers and Hammerstein had an affinity for Cleveland, with the original national tour of South Pacific, among others, opening in the Hanna? Or that for decades performers signed the back side of the Hanna's main curtain, now in the care of Cleveland Public Library's Special Collections? This spiel alone was would be worth the tour: I have to stop myself here, that could be an entire post of its own)

In the end the tour, covering roughly from East 9th to East 18th along Euclid, Prospect, and Huron was about 2 hours -- longer than I had expected, but it still left me wanting more. In addition to the history, it was a great opportunity to see the beautiful buildings at a slower pace and with greater perspective than driving down Euclid.

Other tours are offered of other Cleveland neighborhoods and I may be doing the Gateway District tour in early September. The last opportunity for the Playhouse Square/Theatre District tour is next Tuesday at 6pm meeting in the State Theatre lobby... and bring comfortable shoes.

It was well worth the time, and being free you can't find fault with the cost.

*- Don't get all excited, this is the same "Just Friends" friend mentioned in earlier posts. The finder's fee is still out there.
**- Incidentally, I realized that I seem to have fallen off of Great Lates Theater Festival's maling list: I don't think I've seen a season schedule in close to 2 years now.

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