Coconut Grove Playhouse
|The Coconut Grove Playhouse|
Coconut Grove Playhouse
|Inaugurated||3 January 1927|
|Design and construction|
|Architecture firm||Kiehnel and Elliott|
|Main contractor||Albert Peacock|
The Coconut Grove Playhouse was a theatre in the Coconut Grove neighborhood of Miami, Florida, United States. The building was originally constructed as a movie theater called the Player's State Theater. It opened on January 3, 1927, as a part of the Paramount chain. The movie house was designed by the architect Richard Kiehnel of Kiehnel and Elliott. It was built by local realtors Irving J. Thomas and Fin L. Pierce. Albert Peacock was the contractor.
The theater was renowned as the second movie theatre on the east coast of Florida to be air conditioned and having the largest Wurlitzer organ in the United States. It was used for a variety of shows until closing in 2006. It has not been used since.
In the 1950s George Engle, an oilman, bought it and spent over $1 million in renovations having the architect Alfred Browning Parker convert it to a legitimate theatre. It reopened on January 3, 1956 with the US premiere of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, starring Bert Lahr and Tom Ewell.
In the fifty years that have followed, the Playhouse has played host to many of theater’s most renowned performers, including Maureen Stapleton, Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Eve Arden, Tallulah Bankhead, Carol Channing, Liza Minnelli, Linda Lavin, Bea Arthur, George C. Scott, Colleen Dewhurst, and Ethel Merman.
Use by Miami Actors Company
Between 1964 and 1965, The Coconut Grove Playhouse was used by The Miami Actors Company, which was meant to be an extension of the National Theatre and Academy. The brainchild of Ilse Earl, who taught theatre classes at Miami-Dade, launched this effort. Only 20 actors from Miami and surrounding areas were chosen to become part of this historic event, out of more than 100 or so of those who were asked to audition.
The company was reviewed by The Miami Herald theatre critic at that time. Shows involved, among others, were J.B. by Archibald MacLeish; All the Way Home by Tad Mosel; and Slow Dance on the Killing Ground by William Hanley. Slow Dance was a hurried replacement which had to be put in place within ten days of rehearsal, replacing Hogan's Goat.
Change in artistic director
In 1982, actor-director José Ferrer was named Artistic Director, and under his supervision the Playhouse gained a reputation as one of the nation's leading theatres. In 1985, Arnold Mittelman was selected after a national search to succeed Mr. Ferrer. Among the productions that premiered here prior to a Broadway opening are Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys, starring Jack Klugman and Tony Randall, and Urban Cowboy. Sherry Glaser’s Family Secrets moved to off-Broadway and became its longest running one-woman show. The Playhouse presented the world premiere of Fame: The Musical, which went on to great success in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and London’s West End, and mounted a revival of Death of a Salesman, starring Hal Holbrook and Elizabeth Franz, prior to a national tour. The theatre now has two stages, the 1700-seat proscenium Mainstage Theater and the intimate 100-seat Encore Room Theater.
In-School Touring Program
The Playhouse provided a broad range of programs for all ages, including the In-School Touring Program, which presented plays aimed at students in grades six through twelve, Lizard Lessons, original plays with music for kindergarten through third grade, a Summer Theater Camp for teens, and Theater Stages, which teaches acting techniques, playwriting, costume and scenery design, and improvisation to children, teens, and adult performers.
On November 22, 1996, Late Show with David Letterman originated from the theater. It remains the last episode of the show not to originate from New York to date.
Closing and acquisition by Miami-Dade County
The Coconut Grove Playhouse closed in 2006 due to an accumulated debt. The theatre remains closed to this date. In January 2014, however, Miami-Dade county received permission from the State of Florida to take over the building.
- Cohen 1987 p. 3
- Cohen 1987 p. 4