A CRITIC REMINISCES
The French Quarter at the Safari Hotel was both concert hall and theater, usually configured for drinks and dinner along with the entertainment.
In the case of theater, it was a challenging venue. The stage was long and shallow. The sound and lighting capabilities were barely a step up from basic, although, in memory at least, the acoustics were pretty good. More problematic was the placement of tables; they were packed so close to the stage that patrons were in danger of being kicked by an enthusiastic dancer or covered in spittle from an actor who got carried away.
COMMENTS FROM THE PUBLIC
Brad Zinn: What I remember most about Paul Shank’s French Quarter was seeing (and meeting) Jerry Van Dyke when he played there in the early 70’s. This was long before he found fame on Coach. He was very kind to me, as a young man wanting to be “in the biz.” We shared a few hours talking in his dressing room between shows. Jerry has the hands down funniest cabaret show in the business. I laughed till I could not breathe. Sad that places like this aren’t around anymore …
PHOTOGRAPHS, REVIEWS & THE KITCHEN SINK
JULY 1977. “Under the Yum Yum Tree.” Cast: Jim Servis, Jacqueline Gaston, Noel Irick, Bill Estes. Review: July 15, 1977, Kyle Lawson, Scottsdale Daily Progress.
This eminently forgettable sex comedy was the first show I reviewed in the Valley. The review appeared in the Scottsdale Daily Progress, shortly after I was named that paper’s entertainment editor. In spite of the predictability of the material, it began career-long appreciations for Jacqueline Gaston, Noel Irick and Bill Estes. The fourth member was the cast was a young actor I rather liked. Unfortunately, after a few years Jim Servis, who, by the way, shared Harrison Ford’s interest in woodworking (and was every bit as good), pursued other interests.
DECEMBER, 1977. “Anything Goes.” Director: Ray Cavaleri. Cast: Noel Irick, Anne Peck, Anne Healey, Carolyn Pain, Margie Ghigo, Craig Loucks, Eric Gillette, Barry Garber. Clipping from the Scottsdale Daily Progress, Dec. 30, 1977.
Sooner or later, every theater that produces musicals gets around to this Cole Porter classic. And why not? It doesn’t get much better than the title song, “Blow Gabriel Blow,” “You’re the Top” and “I Get A Kick Out of You.” Anne Peck was very good as Reno Sweeny, a flamboyant nightclub hostess aboard a liner bound for Europe. I also quite liked Eric Gillette as the show’s juvenile (his duet with Anne, “You’re the Top” was a show-stopper) and Carolyn Pain and Craig Loucks as the ingenue’s mother and a British aristocrat attracted to Reno (although Carolyn, in truth, was much too young for her part). I wasn’t as impressed by Barry Garber’s antics as a escaped convict, although Margie Ghigo was pleasing as his moll. And I ask you, what’s not to love when Noel Irick dances? And she danced a lot in this one as a member of Reno’s back-up troupe, the Angels.
JANUARY 1977. “South Pacific.” French Quarter Dinner Theatre at the Safari Hotel, Scottsdale. Director: Larry Liff. Choreography: E. Carolyn Liff. Cast: John Clegg, Cecilia Allen, Sylvia Godfrey, Noel Irick, John C. Dahl, Chuck Walker, David Thompson, Margie Ghigo, Carol Ann Sattenspiel, Randy Post.
Despite an impressive cast by French Quarter standards (John Clegg, stepping away from his conductor’s podium at Phoenix Little Theatre; Cecilia Allen, one of the busiest of the Valley’s sopranos; Randy Post, a popular supporting actor; and Sylvia Godfrey, an ace comedienne) backed by one of the top director-choreographer combinations (Larry Liff and his wife, Carolyn), this production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical failed to impress the Scottsdale Progress‘ critic, Paul Perry. Only Sylvia walked away with any honors.
The production did offer roles to three young people who would carve careers for themselves out of the community theater scene: Noel Irick, co-director-choreographer of CopperState Players and now partnered with her husband, Peter Hill (Peter J. Hill) at Fountain Hills Theatre; Dave Thompson, who appeared on the best of the local stages (most notably in 1776, which Larry directed for Phoenix Little Theatre); and Margie Ghigo.
SEPTEMBER 1976. “The Pajama Game.” Director: Ray Cavaleri. Cast: Marlene Saens, Joe Mahar, Suzanne LaRousch, Patricia Kennedy, Patrick Shells. Choreography: Suzanne LaRousch. Reviews: Sept. 24, 1976, by Paul Perry, Scottsdale Daily Progress; Sept. 23, 1976, by Mike Petryini, The Arizona Republic.
The Progress‘ Paul Perry was a hard man to please. He did not take kindly to The Pajama Game, except for Suzanne LaRousch’s choreography (“Never before have so many danced on the French Quarter stage with so much precision.”) and Patricia Kennedy‘s comedy. At least the Republic‘s Mike Petryini thought the cast had fun. Marlene Saens, one of the era’s top sopranos, and Joe Mahar, who is remembered today only by theater historians, were the other members of the cast. Patrick Shells had an important role but, alas, I cannot find any information on him.
1967. Elaine Morrow in Concert
The French Quarter occasionally featured local talent like Elaine performing in concert.
Here’s a transcript of a Facebook chat some of us had about dinner theaters in the Valley, sparked by an inquiry from Childsplay actor Jon Gentry.
Jon Gentry What was the name of the place where they performed to scaled down versions of musicals in Scottsdale? Was it called the Safari hotel..??
Kyle Lawson It seems to me it was in the French Quarter at the Safari. Here’s a link to vintage photographs of the hotel. http://modernphoenix.net/safari.htm
Jon Gentry Yes!!! Thanks, Kyle!
Kyle Lawson Here’s a link to a brief history of the Safari. I had forgotten how glamorous it was in its day. Movie stars in the bar, no less! http://jmcallister.blogspot.com/…/scottsdales-safari…
Peter Hill Noel (Irick,his wife) was in ‘Anything Goes’, ‘South Pacific’ and ‘Sweet Charity’ there. There have been other dinner theaters besides The Windmill.. Copperstate, obviously, but there was The Ala Carte Players in The Grand Inn in Peoria, There was a dinner operation run by Leo Sears at the Belaire Club at 43rd and Bell, and there was a place near Metro Center for a short while in the 80’s. Kyle, do you remember any others?
Jon Gentry I thought Noel was in a show there bizarrely enough I remember a photo of it in my memory..
Kyle Lawson I went to all of those. Jerry Hansen and Virginia Lee were involved with the Ala Carte Players. I am going to have to do some research for the theater page. Peter, do you remember what they called the Safari operation?
Jon Gentry South pacific was the photo I remembered
Peter Hill She told me the stage was 30 feet wide and 8 feet deep.
Kyle Lawson It reminded me a lot of the stage at Copperstate. How you did those elaborate shows there was a complete mystery to me. I particularly remember “I Hate Hamlet.”
Peter Hill Kyle, Noel says it was called either The Safari Dinner Theater or The French Quarter.
Peter Hill At Max’s we were 16 feet deep and 22 feet wide. When we moved to Greyhound Park we had 35 feet wide and 22 feet deep. Ah, luxury!
Peter Hill Noel also told me she did ‘Under the Yum Yum Tree’ there with Jackie Gaston and Bill Estes.
Kyle Lawson I remember the Murder Mystery Mansion and a place I think was called Murder and a Meal. And, for a short time, there was a dinner theater in Chez Louis in Scottsdale. Remember Chez Louis? I will never forget that floral arrangement in the foyer. Taller than the Empire State! And the management’s insistence that all the waiters speak with a French accent, even if they were from Apache Junction!
Peter Hill Just recalled the Ala Carte also moved their dinner theater operations into The Camelback Inn for 3 Summer seasons and played about 6 months in The Gold Room of The Arizona Biltmore
Kyle Lawson Under the Yum Yum Tree. Yes, that was the first time I saw that trio, I think. Also Jim Servis. And didn’t Pam Beitman work there?
Peter Hill I remember Chez, but I don’t think I was ever inside. Noel says she thinks Pam was in Yum Yum, or it may have been Damn Yankees (Noel was Gloria)
Kyle Lawson I remember the Gold Room shows. I think Michael Barnard did a musical there. I recall Brad Craig being in the cast, but I’m not sure about others. Maybe Robyn Ferracane. She worked a lot with Michael then. Give us a shout out, Robyn.
Peter Hill That’s right. Right after we left, Ron Newcomer’s MTA came in with Party of One.
Kyle Lawson The memories, the memories … for all that no one was making a dime, it was a great time for theater.
Peter Hill Yeah. Although surprisingly, I was doing really well with Copperstate. We’d still be in operation if the Greyhound Park hadn’t closed. On the other hand, now that I’m not running two full time theaters I discovered this new thing called sleep. Who knew!
Peter Hill BYW I didn’t see much about Music Theater of Arizona on the site. Might be worth a look. In the 90’s they were the company that kept us all working! Brought in quite a few ‘names’ as well. I ADORED working with Buddy Ebsen and remained friends with him til his death. There’s even a photo of Buddy in the MTA production of Carousel in his autobiography ‘The Other Side of OZ’
Kyle Lawson Peter, , I am going to research a piece on MTA. I’m trying to locate Ron and JoAnn Yeoman. By the way, I remember another dinner theater, but not its name. It was in a hotel on Main Street in Mesa. And it seems to me I recall a brief operation at the San Carlos Hotel in downtown Phoenix. Didn’t you have an operation on or near Central Avenue?
Robyn Ferracane At the Biltmore we did “Party of One” and then Michael (Barnard) put a “Pump Boys and Dinettes” cast in there. Try (John) Sankovich for Ron Newcomer. I might have some of those photos too.
Peter Hill Good Lord Kyle, you do have a memory! We tried a ‘Copperstate East’ in the building that used to house the Phoenix Women’s Club on 3rd Ave and Earll behind Park Central Mall. We were open for about 3 months with a really good production of ‘Smokey Joe’s Cafe’. The owner of the building kept cancelling performances if he got wedding or reception rentals. Sometimes it seemed like I was refunding more that I was selling! Seriously frustrating experience.
Kyle Lawson Still digging in my memories: The Barleen family operated a dinner theater in Apache Junction (and in Estes Park, where I summer). I think it is still in operation. The Rockin’ R Ranch in Mesa has a cowboy dinner theater.
Kyle Lawson The Mystery Mansion Dinner Theater (mysterymansion.com) is the longest running murder mystery dinner theater in Arizona. The theater opened its doors in 1989, presenting an interactive murder mystery that guests can participate in while dining. There are four shows, “Murder at Greystone Manner,” “Murder at Bedside Manner,” Murder at Magic Manner” and “Murder Karaoke.” Guests are treated to a three-course meal while trying to solve who-done-it during the two-hour show.
Peter Hill Robyn, one of my fondest memories is doing ‘Last of the Red Hot Lovers’ with you at The Camelback Inn. Still giggle whenever I watch anyone struggle taking a pill!
Robyn Ferracane OMG! Peter I was just thinking of that! We had a blast with that show! Loved it!
Peter Hill Yes. The concert venues and murder mysteries are not ‘classic’ dinner theater, (Ala ‘Soapdish’ – you know, cutting someone’s meat while playing Willie Loman) but they are fun. I worked as the Detective for Mystery Mansion’s ‘Murder at Rutherford House’ for a year and a half.
Peter Hill There is a great story about ‘I Hate Hamlet’ at Max’s Dinner Theatre. Rusty Ferracane was playing Andrew. There is only one, quiet, very touching moment in the whole evening. Andrew describing his experience trying to do the ‘to be or not to be’ speech. Rusty was perfect. Really nailing it. The audience is hushed. And from the Off Track betting room next door came the clarion call of some guy bellowing ‘Go Four! Go Four! Give it to him up the a__!!!!!’ Sorry Rusty. He forever has my apologies.