The account of PLOS’ first two decades ended in 1983, when changes to Health Department regulations resulted in PLOS’ chosen venue, the George Jenkins Theatre, becoming unavailable, and its second 1983 show, Brigadoon, was performed at the Mount Eliza Community Theatre.
However, throughout the late 70’s and early 80’s, problems had arisen for the company because of the shortage of suitable rehearsal venues and the lack of space for set and costume storage and workshop. During this period, various PLOS members (including Jean and Stan Riley and the late Basil Gleeson) and other Frankston community members spent many long hours investigating the possible purchase or lease of land for the future erection of a permanent home for PLOS.
As we all know, the search was finally successful, but it was a LONG adventure, and having several times rewritten this section after discovering additional information, I’ve decided that it deserves its own separate history, which will be submitted to the Upstage editor later this year.
The George Jenkins Theatre’s problems having been solved in early 1984, PLOS returned to that theatre to present South Pacific and Pirates of Penzance. On February 10, 1985, ex-president Alan Burhop officially opened the new building on the corner of Overport and Somerset Roads, Frankston, which was immediately christened The Shed (what else?)
Following the achievement of this long-held dream, the year 1985 held both triumph and dismay. The year’s first show was the ambitious and spectacular Black and White Minstrel Show, which won a special award for Outstanding Achievement in the FEIP Awards (predecessor of the Music Theatre Guild Awards). On the other hand, the second show – Anything Goes – fell victim to a combination of a too-short rehearsal period and major set problems, and had to be cancelled.
However, a plus was the continuation of the annual Schools Music Theatre Awards (founded in 1982 and known as the PLOS Cup) with awards for singing, acting, choreography, set design and a music award honouring the late Basil Gleeson. Over the next few years, regular working bees slowly increased the Shed’s facilities, including scenery racks, a mezzanine floor for costumes and props storage, and permanent seating in the meeting room.
Shows presented were The King and I and Oklahoma! (1986), Hello Dolly (PLOS’ 50th show) and Oliver! (1987). Another 1987 event was the company’s incorporation; many other theatre groups were following the same path, to protect committees from crippling legal action. Yet another was the completion of all fittings for The Shed, clearing space on the main floor for the holding of rehearsals for Oliver! The shows rolled on: Guys and Dolls (1988), Music Man and Chicago (1989), and Pajama Game and Li’l Abner (1990).
An interesting development involving several PLOS members was the formation in late 1989 of Rainbow Theatre by Christine A’Bell, Arch & Sue Dyer and Kel & Joan Pearson. Rainbow, funded by its five members, was an experiment, planned to present a traditional pantomime in the Peninsula’s theatrically ‘dead’ month of January. A large cast drawn from both PLOS and other Peninsula groups, made the show – Cinderella – a resounding success, and the annual Rainbow panto is now an established part of the theatrical year, with Sue Salvato assuming the director-choreographer hat when Ms. A’Bell moved elsewhere.
As PLOS reached the 90’s, its casting began to show a strong youth influence, reflecting the many school musical theatre productions and the growth of Peninsula-based Panorama Youth Theatre. Lead roles were increasingly going to young performers, notably Michael Fletcher (Cabaret, My Fair Lady), Sally McLean (Annie, No No Nanette), Justin Green (Li’l Abner), Lyndel Smart (Nanette) and Candice Taylor (MFL, Nanette).
In 1992, Frankston City Council – after more than two years nagging by Frankston theatre groups and the Frankston and Mornington Peninsula Arts Council (FAMPAC) – actually began planning a large theatre/function centre/library complex for the city, and by the end of the year, it was announced that work would shortly begin on a site in Davey Street, Frankston, opposite the civic centre.
In 1992, Frankston City Council announced that work would shortly begin on a large theatre library complex. Since the community had been asked to assist with raising finance for the building, the PLOS committee pledged $10,000 towards the project. PLOS shows for 1990 were Pajama Game and Li’l Abner, 1991 – Annie and the review Putting On The Ritz, and 1992 – My Fair Lady and Cabaret.
In spite of the increase in young performers presenting to audition for PLOS shows, PLOS Cup secretary Joan Pearson reported sadly in mid-1993 that, due to staffing problems, only two schools had shown any interest in competing. Reasons for this were partly the new State Government’s economic campaign in the education field, and partly the growth of many schools’ involvement in the Rock Eisteddfod; regretfully, the PLOS cup was discontinued.
There had been some discussion about the company occasionally returning to its Gilbert & Sullivan origins, and a production of Yeomen of the Guard was mooted for 1993 to follow No No Nanette – until some committee members actually READ the libretto and discovered its grim Tower of London setting and its downbeat final curtain with the death of Jack Point, the jester. A major back-pedal resulted in Yeomen’s replacement by The Mikado, which had already been successfully presented in 1964 and 1978, and was again well received in 1993.
Late that year, the committee conducted an audience survey to gauge audience preference for musicals, and the response was illuminating – the overwhelming preference was “a revue”, so the busy team of Arch Dyer and Sue Salvato immediately began work on a revue for the late 1994 production, to be titled Talk of the Town.
As a matter of interest, the other shows chosen, in order of preference, were: Anything Goes, Mack & Mabel, Whitehorse Inn, Kiss Me Kate, Mame, Oklahoma, Merry Widow, Sweet Charity, Chorus Line, Sound of Music, Paint Your Wagon, Brigadoon, Annie Get Your Gun, Kismet, Desert Song and Barnum.
Roy Thompson, already respected for his acting and directing of straight plays, joined PLOS to direct a fine production of Fiddler On the Roof in 1994, which was followed by Talk of the Town. Another memorable event in June that year was the unveiling of a plaque commemorating the beginning of work on the long awaited Frankston Cultural Centre. By October, a group of PLOS people were given a tour of the backstage area, including the Green Room – to be christened the PLOS Green Room in recognition of the company’s major donation – and were deeply impressed.
At the Annual Meeting in April, 1995, the company finally gave in and renamed itself PLOS Musical Productions, accepting what members and public had been calling it for the past 30 years.
A Plaintive note in the November, 1994, Newsletter from then President and potential director Norm Smart to explain the absence of his regular column, Smart Talk: after listening to 130 versions of “Doe, a deer” over five days (the forthcoming show was, of course, Sound of Music!) his column was “CACTUS” and had been deferred.
Many PLOS members were involved in the opening ceremonies and performances at the Cultural Centre, which was open for business by the first week in May, 1995, and Sue Salvato (director-choreographer) and Bev Woodford (Musical Director) were already facing the daunting but exciting prospect of presenting PLOS’s first show, West Side Story, in the new venue in October. In June, after a splendid production of Sound of Music farewelled the well-loved George Jenkins Theatre, PLOS learned that they had obtained the right to 42nd Street for production in early 1996.
West Side Story, the first major musical to be presented at the Cultural Centre, was a stunning production, but also a learning exercise, as the many ‘bugs’ in the new venue were discovered and dealt with, and production teams continued to learn more about the larger, more technically sophisticated theatre. The many lessons learned could be observed in the first 1996 show, 42nd Street, which was also a fine production.
However, it was becoming clear that the Cultural Centre, achieved with so much effort by so many peninsula theatre people, carried some surprising disadvantages. Daytime shows, featuring people such as Denise Drysdale, Ernie Sigley, and other popular favourites, were eating into what had once been assured PLOS audiences. The 60-and-overs, unwilling to drive at night, welcomed the daytime performances at low ticket prices, and PLOS audience figures had been notably lower during the past year.
In view of this significant fact, perhaps Barnum was not a wise choice for 1996’s second show. (Hindsight is a wonderful thing!) Remember that in that 1993 audience survey, Barnum came last in a list of sixteen preferred musicals, and PLOS committee members encountered an astonishing lack of public recognition of the show. (President John Rumbelow reported in horror that a man had innocently enquired: “What’s a Barnum?”). Although director Erik Rinkel received a well-deserved Judge’s Award from the Music Theatre Guild for his creative direction, the show was a financial failure, a severe shock for PLOS, which had become accustomed to full houses and continued success.
The committee has learned that marketing has become all important, and Secretary Michael Fletcher headed a sub-committee which worked hard on the marketing of the last show, Me & My Girl, which was both an artistic and financial success. However, the PLOS committee, facing moderate ticket sales, and the growing budget for the second show, a premier of the 20’s Hollywood musical Singing’ in the Rain made, with regret, the hard decision to cancel the show (only the second time this has occurred in PLOS’s 35 year history).
To be continued……..