PLT 1960s


Olan K. "Kit" Carson, Resident Director, Phoenix Little Theatre
Olan K. “Kit” Carson, Resident Director, Phoenix Little Theatre

Olan K. Carson, popularly known as Kit, took up his duties as resident director of Phoenix Little Theatre on Aug. 1, 1963. He hit the ground running. During his first season, he directed five productions and conducted one workshop.

Kit had his BS degree from Mount Union College in Alliance, Ohio. He was a graduate assistant in drama at the University of Washington, Seattle, and studied drama with Herbert Shumlin in New York City.

While at Mount Union, Kit was named best actor. In 1961, he received the best actor award from the Tacoma Little Theatre. In 1963, he received the best actor award from the University of Washington.

Prior to coming to Phoenix, he was resident director of Tacoma Little Theatre and resident actor at Cirque Playhouse, Seattle.

At PLT, Kit directed and acted, often in the same show. He guided himself to acclaim as the British husband bedeviled by the ghost of his first wife in 1967′s Blithe Spirit; as Mommet the Witch (the role that gave Peter O’Toole his first break at stardom) in Hans Christian Andersen’s The Tinder Box; and as a gentleman marooned on a tropical island in The Little Hut.

Working most often in collaboration with scenic and lighting designer Jim Edmondson, his range was considerable: from Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park (featuring rising star Jacqueline Gaston) to Jean Anouilh’s Beckett (with Edmundson alternating the roles of King Henry and Thomas Beckett with William McLaughlin). Showing his versatility, Kit designed and sewed the elaborate costumes for Beckett.

Carson was more than competent at helming the classics. His 1969 production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was highly regarded.  He was also a dab hand with musicals as he proved with 1968’s The Fantasticks.

In fact, there was very little he didn’t do, from making costumes, to helping hang lights, to designing the shows, to, at times, cleaning out the bathrooms.

During the mid-1960s, Kit hosted “Collector’s Choice” on KTAR-FM.

In 1968, PLT hit a financial pothole. The Arizona Republic’s Bina Breitner attributed it to “a misguided association” with Phoenix Children’s Theatre and Arizona Repertory Theatre, which closed its doors.  In the spring of 1969, the PLT board decided that the paid staff would have to go. Kit moved to Tucson where he started work on a master’s degree in theater at the University of Arizona and the PLT board went hat in hand to the Phoenix City Council. After weighing what the loss of PLT would mean to the community, the council came through with emergency funding.

For more information on this financial crisis, see the clippings of September 1969, April 1969 and January 1968 below.

James Edmondson, Technical Director, Phoenix Little Theatre.
James Edmondson, Technical Director, Phoenix Little Theatre.
Paul Grothouse, Assistant Technical Director, Phoenix Little Theatre.
Paul Grothouse, Assistant Technical Director, Phoenix Little Theatre.


  • 1969.
  • Bina Breitner’s column in the Arizona Republic
Arizona Republic, Dec. 3, 1969
Arizona Republic, Dec. 3, 1969
  • 1969.
  • Playwright: Paul Osborn.
  • Source: Novel by L.E. Watkins.
  • Director: Trudy Hurley.
  • Scenic Design: Stratton Powell.
  • Costume Design: Margaret O’Malley.
  • Makeup Design: Gene Smith.
  • Cast: Reed Kroloff, F. Lincoln Holmes, Lucile Holmes, John Graff, Rhonda Morgan, Margaret Lisonbee, Dennis Brad Zinn, William Strand, Gene LaVake, John Milsdorf, Clarence Zinn, Steve Staebell.
  • Bina Breitner’s Review in the Nov. 7, 1969 Arizona Republic
  • Ben Tyler on Facebook, Oct. 12, 2014: I saw this production in 8th grade. First play I saw at Phoenix Little Theatre. I remember they said we had to dress up to go to the theatre. My mom took me to Robert Hall to buy me a coat and tie. It was a big deal. We had read the play in class, and it was very cool to then see it on stage.

Phoenix Theatre, 1969, On Borrowed Time 001

  • 1969.
  • Playwright. Joseph Stein.
  • Director, Costume Design: Larry Liff.
  • Scenic Design: Robin L. Lee.
  • Lighting Design: Chris Grauf.
  • Sound Design: Gary McSpadden.
  • Makeup: Gene Smith.
  • Stage Manger. Jim Bickoff.
  • Cast: Bob Gusick, David Sobol, Jeff Finch, Pamela Fields, Milt Charrow, Andrew Schefman, Jim Holoman, John Apicella, Eleanor Prickett, Paula Sobol, Sam Bickoff, Sally Rice, Steve Kessel, Gene Smith, John Sankovich.
  • Facebook Comment: It was a real family affair: my dad, Sam Bickoff, played the father opposite the wonderful Paula Sobol, and my brother, Jim Bickoff, now of the Park Central Deli, was Stage Manager. And OMG, what a cast of Phoenix favorites!!!        – Pamela Fields.
  • Facebook Comment: My Dad was involved in amateur theatrics as a writer, director and actor from the time he was in the Air Force and was very active in community theatre when we lived in MA. He really encouraged me in my dramatic interests…I remember him giving me Moss Hart’s ACT ONE to read when I was in junior h.s….and my folks loved to go to the theatre and took us kids all the time. ~ My brother also had the theatre “bug”, but on the other side of the footlights. He attended PC and was John Paul’s star pupil as a theatre technician and set designer. Gordon Jesse, John Sankovich, Larry Soller…well, the list could go on and on! Jimmy continued at ASU–in the days when Gammage was actually a venue for student productions–but then decided to follow in my dad’s footsteps in a different path: the deli! ~ My Dad’s restaurant was Sam’s Hideaway at Central & McDowell and when I was in high school and working at the deli, got to meet and be mentored by so many of the theatre artists in the various venues in the Central Ave corridor: Bob Begam, Norman McDonald, Paula Sobol, Jim Flanagan, Van Peterson … wow … you’ve inspired quite a walk down memory lane for me this afternoon!!

Bina Breitner’s Arizona Republic review: Oct. 3, 1969

Phoenix Theatre, 1969, Enter Laughing, October 001 Phoenix Theatre, 1969, Enter Laughing, October 002


Bina Breitner on Valley theater 1969 - 1


bina breitner on Valley theater 1969 - 3

  • SEPTEMBER 1969 
  • Director: Larry Liff.
  • Cast: Eleanor Prickett, Steve Kessel, Pamela Fields, David Sobel (making his PLT debut).

Phoenix Theatre 1969 Enter Laughing 00`


  • Playwright: William Shakespeare.
  • Director: Olan K. Carson (Kit Carson)

Phoenix Theatre 1969 April Twelfth Night\

Phoenix Theatre, 1969, Twelfth Night 001

MAY 21, 1969.  DEFICIT REACHES $4,000.

At a board meeting, it was reported that PLT had earned $48, 031 against expenditures of $52,069. However, the board expected the $4,038 deficit to be offset by the dismissal of all paid staff with the exception of business manager Don Herring.

In other business, board member Daniel Witt resigned, citing lack of time. He was named an artistic adviser of the company. Added to the board were Shirley Henderson, William Mahoney, Betty Von Lutzow and George Fike, bringing the board to 22 members out of a legal limit of 25.

  • Staff is dismissed, a polite term for “fired.”
  • Phoenix Theatre 1969 april 19

phoenix theatre 1969 april 19 2

  • JANUARY, 1969
  • Playwright: Frederick Knott.
  • Director: Olan K. Carson (Kit Carson)
  • Cast: Jacqueline Gaston, Steven Mastroieni, James Matz. Gary Kinsey, Becky White, Don Spencer.
  • Comments: This thriller is always a potent audience pleaser and Phoenix Theatre’s 1969 production was no exception – though, one night, audiences got more than they bargained for.
  • Steven Mastroieni remembers … “The first show I did on the Main Stage at PLT was with Jacqueline Gaston as a blind housewife to my vicious Roat. I cut Jacque’s forearm in the black-out scene at the end of the play. We struggled outside of prearranged blocking and I had a really sharp gravity knife. I didn’t realize I had cut her until pinning her against the open refrigerator door – red on white. She swooned at curtain call.”
  • By the way, Knott was the go-to man for theatrical thrillers. Besides this one, he wrote Wait Until Dark and Write Me A Murder.
Phoenix Little Theatre, "Wait Until Dark," (from left) Steven Mastroieni, James Matz, Jacqueline Gaston. The Phoenix Gazette.
Phoenix Little Theatre, “Wait Until Dark,” (from left) Steven Mastroieni, James Matz, Jacqueline Gaston. The Phoenix Gazette.
Clipping from the Jan. 24, 1969 Scottsdale Daily Progress.
Clipping from the Jan. 24, 1969 Scottsdale Daily Progress.
  • NOVEMBER 1968
  • Playwrights: Tom Jones, Harvey Schmidt.
  • Director: Olan K. Carson (Kit Carson)
  • Choreographer: Mary Girard Tierney.
  • Scenic Designer: Olan K. Carson.
  • Cast: Olan K. Carson, Bill Stevens (William Stevens), Cass Foster, Ed Humphrey, Gloria English, Maury Staples.
  • Notes: Everett King, a mover and shaker in Valley theater, was well known for being one of the original investors in this show, the longest running musical in New York history.  And Kit Carson, who directed and designed this production, was also forced to step in at the last minute as one of the fathers. As he usually did, he won rave reviews.
  • Nancy Bennett’s Review in the Arizona Republic.

PHOENIx theatre 1968 nov the fantasticks 001

  • OCTOBER 1968
  • Playwrights: George S. Kaufman, Moss Hart.
  • Pulitzer Prize Winner.
  • Director: Robert M. Teague.
  • Cast: Jim Christopher, Jacqueline Gaston, Carol Tomas, F. Lincoln D. Holmes, Maureen Gerst, Ruth Stone, Milt Charrow, Herb Taylor, Paul Grothouse, Cass Foster, Barry Bonnell, James Christopher, John Fife, Dale Noreen Wickliffe, Ida Spencer, Bill Moiner, Thomas Speropulos, Dorothy Laurence.
  • Scenic Design: Judy McMillan.
  • Lighting Design: Stratton Powell.
  • Costume Design: Lyn Dutton.
  • Comments: In addition to contemporary comedies and musicals, PLT was a bastion of the great American play. In 1968, it produced You Can’t Take It With You, George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s classic comedy that won the Pulitzer Prize and an Academy Award when it was made into a film. PLT pulled out all casting stops with this one, featuring Jim Christopher, Jacqueline Gaston and Carol Tomas in top roles. All were box-office draws at the time.
  • Many outstanding actors have worked on Valley stages over the years. F. Lincoln D. Holmes was one of them. Today, he is all but forgotten. But not by Jacqueline Gaston, his co-star in this production. He was the “dearest, sweetest man!,” she says. “He personified the word ‘gentleman.’”
  • Bina Breitner’s review in the Arizona Republic.

Phoenix Theatre 1968 Oct You Can't Take It With You

Jim Christopher, Jacqueline Gaston, Carol Tomas and F. Lincoln D. Holmes.

  •  SEPTEMBER 1968 
  • Playwright: Jean Kerr.
  • Director: Olan K. Carson (Kit Carson)
  • Cast: Golda Chadwick, Bill Chadwick, Vic Wilmot, Christine Coates, Neal Sullivan.
  • Scenic Design: Judy McMillan.
  • Lighting Design: Stratton Powell.

Phoenix Theatre 1968 Sept Mary, Mary 00`

Bina Breitner’s review in the Arizona Republic.

phoenix theatre 1968 sept mary, mary 002

  • PLT actress Christine Coates gets a movie contract
Arizona Republic, Sept. 19, 1968.
Arizona Republic, Sept. 19, 1968.

Phoenix Theatre Sept. 19, 1968 - Copy


Arizona Republic, Aug. 27, 1968

Under Kit Carson’s direction, PLT tries its hand at a dinner theater. It was an experiment of short duration.

phoenix theatre 1968 august supper shows

Phoenix Theatre, 1968, The Odd Couple 002

Phoenix Theatre, 1968, The Odd Couple 001

Phoenix Theatre, 1968

  • JUNE 1968
  • Fundraiser.
  • Mrs. Earl Bimson, event chairperson; Jarrett Jarvis, membership chairman,  and Mrs. Donald Soule, president of the First Nighters, head up a fundraiser for the company. The Arizona Republic photographed them in front of the fountains at the Civic Center which was built on the site of the Heard Stables, PLT’s first home.

Phoenix Theatre Fundraiser 001

Arizona Republic, June 12, 1968.
Arizona Republic, June 12, 1968.


Arizona Republic, June 12, 1968
Arizona Republic, June 12, 1968
  • APRIL.
  • 1968. Charley’s Aunt.
  • Playwright: Brandon Thomas.
  • Director: Olan K. Carson (Kit Carson).
  • Scenic and Lighting Design: Jim Edmundson.
  • Cast: Ray Curtis, Roy Erwin-Sutherland, Ron Harris, Daniel Witt, Celia Sklan, Sue Phillips, Alan Dent, Malcolm Gibson, Julie Minotto, Peggy Nichols.
  • Makeup Design: Gene Smith.
  • Costume Design: Marjorie Ehlen.
  • Bina Breitner’s review in the Arizona Republic.

Phoenix Theatre, 1968, April, Charley's Aunt. 001

Phoenix Theatre 1967

  • More on the financial crisis

Phoenix Theatre 1968 May financial crisis

  • News of the financial crisis.
  • Olan K. Carson, Stratton Powell, Judy McMillan are gone.
  • Donald Herring, business manager, is fired; but later rehired.

Phoenix Theatre 1969 Scottsdale Progress April 19 001

  • MAY 1968. 
  • Playwright: Jean Anouilh.
  • Director: Olan K. Carson (Kit Carson).
  • Cast: James Edmondson and William McLaughlin alternated the roles of King Henry and Thomas Beckett; Cass Foster, Gary Hall, F. Lincoln D. Holmes, Peggy Nichols, Dorothy Laurence, Katina Politz, Paul Grothouse, William English Jr.

Note: This was James Edmondson’s swan song at Phoenix Little Theatre after two seasons as its resident scenic designer. He went on to a long and resplendent career at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.

Phoenix Theatre Beckett May 10, 1968

phoenix theatre beckett 000 june 12, 1968

phoenix theatre beckett 000 june 12, 1968 - Copy

Bina Breitner’s review in the Arizona Republic.

Arizona Republic, May 24, 1968
Arizona Republic, May 24, 1968
  • APRIL 1968 
  • Playwright: Brandon Thomas.
  • Director: Olan K. Carson (Kit Carson).
  • Scenic Design: Jim Edmondson.
  • Costume Design: Marjorie Ehlen.
  • Makeup Design: Gene Smith.
  • Cast: Daniel Witt, Ray Currie, Cece Sklan, Ron Harris, Sue Phillips, Julie Minotto, Peggy Nichols, Malcolm Gibson, Roy Erwin-Sutherland, Alan Dent.
  • Notes: “Charley’s Aunt” broke all historic records for plays of any kind, with an original London run of 1,466 performances. The play had its first success on Broadway in 1893. The plot was perfect for farce as an undergraduate’s friends persuade him to impersonate one of their elderly aunts. Jack Benny and Ray Bolger had personal hits with the role.
Arizona Republic, March 23, 1968.
Arizona Republic, March 23, 1968.

phoenix theatre 1968 charley's aunt 002

  • 1968
  • Playwright: Federico Garcia Lorca
  • JANUARY 1968 
  • Book, Music, Lyrics: Rick Besoyan.
  • Director: Olan K. Carson (Kit Carson).
  • Scenic Design: Olan K. Carson.
  • Choreographer: Jean Campbell.
  • Cast: Mary Beth Ames, Chris Coates, William McLaughlin, Jim White, Clara Mouritson, Estelle Speros, Greg Stump, Mel Pollack, Allan Jeffory, Gary Naylor, Jan Clemmer, Jack Culver, Ed Humphrey, Kenneth Hansen, Tim Sullivan, Ray Currie, Rita Ramsperger, Carol Witman, Cherie Pennington, Dixie Lee Patterson, Kathy Nelson, Diane Smolen.
  • Pianists: Flora Mogerman, Thelma Colburn.
Arizona Republic, Jan. 28, 1968
Arizona Republic, Jan. 28, 1968

Bina Breitner’s review in the Arizona Republic.

phoenix theatre 1968 feb little mary sunshine


Arizona Republic, Jan. 29, 1968
Arizona Republic, Jan. 29, 1968


phoenix theatre utility bills 1

phoenix theatre utility bills 2

  • DECEMBER 1967
  • Wool, Red Wool: An Experience with the Poetry of Federico Garcia Lorca.
  • Director: James Edmondson.
  • Choreographers: Gary Naylor, Judy Chruma, Gregg Stump.
  • Cast: Naylor, Chruma, Stump, Rob Richardson, Estelle Speros, Kathy Nelson, Grace Switzer, Merilee Long, Nors Eidelberg, Robert L. Johnson, Elice Higgenbotham, Elihu Sutton, Paavo Hall, William McLaughlin, Darcy Vebber, Joseph McDaniel, Steve Snow, Rodney Mitchell and Cindy Buchanan.
  • Comments: This unusual production, part poetic drama, part music, part dance, was directed by James Edmondson, who went on to 38 seasons at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. Three choreographers took part: Gary Naylor, Judy Chruma and Gregg Stump. The artists mixed Lorca’s poetry with music, dance, mime and the Spanish language to get the mood across to the audience.
  • DECEMBER 1967
  • Playwright: Nicholas Stuart Gray, adapted from Hans Christian Andersen
  • Director: Olan Kit Carson.
  • Cast: Olan Kit Carson, Jacqueline Gaston, Richard Alexander, Robin Milne, Roy Edward Sutherland, Nancy Johnson, Fred Reed, Jo Spencer, Danny Newton, Terry Lake, Barbara Stinson, Larry Fearneyhough, John Sharkey, Wendy Warnken,  Allen Williams, Rick Cook, Jonathan Bubb, Tannis Lake and Kirwin Theriault.
  • Scene & Lighting Design: Jim Edmondson.
  • Makeup Design: Gene Smith.
  • Costume Design: Sandee Strand.
  • Comments: In December 1967, PLT cast adult actors in a children’s play designed to celebrate the holiday season. The Tinder Box was an adaptation by Nicholas Stuart Gray of the Hans Christian Andersen tale. Kit Carson, then a resident director at PLT, took the role of Mommet the Witch, a part originated by Peter O’Toole when he was a drama school student.
  • Review: Bena Breitner, Arizona Republic
  • phoenix theatre 1967 Tinder Box 001
  • phoenix theatre 1967 tinder box 002
  • Phoenix Theatre 1967 Tinder Box 003
  • phoenix theatre 1967 tinder box 004
    Arizona Republic, Dec. 16, 1967
    Arizona Republic, Dec. 16, 1967

    olan k. kit carson 001

  • 1967
  • Cast: Rebecca White, Royce Bauder
Arizona Republic, Oct. 22, 1967
Arizona Republic, Oct. 22, 1967


OCTOBER 1967 Benefit Revival of the 1963 PLT production of “Raisin in the Sun

Arizona Republic, Oct. 22, 1967

  • 1967
  • Playwright: Neil Simon.
  • Director: Olan K. Carson (Kit Carson).
  • Scenic Design: Jim Edmundson.
  • Cast: Jacqueline Gaston, Donald Spencer, Audrey Kastensmith, Ralph Norton, F. Lincoln Holmes, John Fife.

Comments: It’s a rule of thumb that every actress with half a chop of comedy talent in her handbag will end up playing Corie, the young wife in Neil Simon’s comedy. Jacqueline Gaston was no exception. She got her chance in PLT’s ’67 production. Donald Spencer was her husband, Audrey Kastensmith her mother and Ralph Norton the man upstairs. John Fife repaired the phones but F. Lincoln D. Holmes, who had co-starred with Gaston in PLT’s <em>You Can’t Take It With You</em>, stole the show as the Bloomingdale’s delivery guy who collapses after climbing the stairs to the couple’s apartment.

Bina Breitner’s review in the Arizona Republic

Phoenix Theatre 1967 Barefoot in the Park Republic, Sept 15 a

Phoenix Theatre 1967 Barefoot in the Park Republic, Sept 15 b

  • 1967
  • Playwright: Maxwell Anderson

1966-1967 SEASON

Phoenix Theatre January 19, 1967

  • APRIL 1967
  • Playwright: Andre Roussin, adapted by Nancy Mitford.
  • Director: Olan K. Carson (Kit Carson)
  • Scenic and Lighting Design: Jim Edmundson.
  • Cast:  Olan K. Carson (Kit Carson), Sally Goldwater, Joseph Jenckes, James Minotto, Richard X. Burton.
  • Notes: Yes, Sally was related to the Senator.
  • Bina Breitner’s review in the Arizona Republic
April 14, 1967
April 14, 1967
  • FEBRUARY, 1967
  • Playwright: Noel Coward
  • Director: Olan K. Carson (Kit Carson)
  • Setting and Lighting Design: Jim Edmundson.
  • Cast: Carol Hobbs, Avis Ashton, Olan K. Carson (Kit Carson), Raymond Seitz, Dolly Hunt, Olga Rogers, Pam Hauser.
Arizona Republic, Feb. 3, 1967
Arizona Republic, Feb. 3, 1967
  • JANUARY 1967 
  • Director: Olan K. Carson (Kit Carson).
  • Cast: Graham Hill, Mary Kay Nielsen (making her Valley stage debut), Christine Coates, F. Lincoln D. Holmes, Billy Chitwood (making his acting debut), Bruce Neral (making his Valley stage debut), Jim Dougherty (Jim Dougherty), Bruce Halperin.
  • Note: Graham Hill came to this production straight from Mesa Community Players Night Must Fall, in which he played the role of a psycho killer.  In 1965, he had been seen in PLT’s See How They Run.
  • Note: Mary Kay Nielsen, making her Valley debut, was a veteran of the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego and the Pasadena Playhouse. At the Old Globe, she played the same role in Company.
  • Note: Christine Coates was PLT’s go-to-blonde at this time.  She appeared in a number of productions until she left to go to Hollywood. She signed a contract with a film producer in her dressing room.
  • Note: Billy Chitwood and Bruce Neral made their PLT debuts with this play. Bruce was new to the Valley.
Scottsdale Progress, Jan. 6, 1967
Scottsdale Progress, Jan. 6, 1967
  • NOVEMBER 1966 
  • Director: Olan K. Carson (Kit Carson)
  • Olan K. Carson (Kit Carson) is officially appointed resident director after directing several plays for the company.
  • Also appointed are Burke Rhind, Roger Miller and Walter Stilley. Stephen Shadegg, board president, also announced that Robert White and John Christianson would head the 1966-67 membership drive.
Scottsdale Progress, Sept. 30, 1966
Scottsdale Progress, Sept. 30, 1966
  • MAY, 1965
  • Playwrights: Henry & Phoebe Ephron (based on an incident in the life of their daughter, Nora Ephron).
  • Director: Nancy duBreuil.
  • Comments: Still trying to find material on this production, which received a “Best Comedy Award” for 1969 from the Arizona Republic.  I did find this article by Larry Rummel, the entertainment writer for the Phoenix Gazette, dated May 11, 1965. (He spells the director’s last name “deBreuil” then “duBreuil.” Does anyone know the correct spelling?)

Larry Rummell, May 11, 1965


phoenix theater 1965 take her, she's mineArizona Republic, May 15, 1965, Page 57 2014-07-15 13-19-54

  • MARCH 1965
  • Playwrights: Albert Beich and William Wright, from the novel by Edwin Corle.
  • Director: Diane Johnson.
  • Cast: Rick Rogers, Shirley Fabricant, Jeanette Schmidt, Raymond Seitz, Lyn Frazier, Elizabeth Dolly Herst, Dan Sullivan, Bernard Fallon, Gary Imel, Stan Schultz.
  • Comments: A milquetoast rents a dog costume for a party and finds that he can finally face life – if he’s wearing the suit! Raymond Seitz, Lyn Frazier and Gary Imel are names that frequently appear in cast lasts during this period. The web, however, doesn’t have anything in the way of information about them.
Newspaper Clipping from the Phoenix Gazette, March 10, 1965.
Newspaper Clipping from the Phoenix Gazette, March 10, 1965.
  • FEBRUARY 1965
  • Playwright: Lawrence Roman.
  • Director: Diane Thomas.
  • Cast: Marsha Ann Scibella, Earl Baldwin, Lori Stark, Noel Campbell, Dave Connor.
  • Stage Manager: Dick Marcinko.
  • Set Design: Stewart W. Johnson
  • Costume Design: Pat Bartley.
  • Comments: Diane Thomas, who had worked for several Colorado theaters, was in the director’s chair for this piece of fluff. Marsha Ann Scibella, a graduate of the University of Arizona’s drama problem, was cast as a student in love with a young lawyer. She was best known for being Miss Phoenix, Miss Pima County and a runner-up for Miss Arizona in the Miss America pageant. Making his debut as the lawyer was Noel Campbell, who had appeared in West Side Story at Arizona State University. The reviews for this one were not good. “Pedestrian and ultimately boring” said the headline over Tim Kelly’s review in the Feb. 4, 1965 edition of the Arizona Republic. He reported “Lines are misread. Innuendos fly around like fogbound hobgoblins looking for a place to land. And for some inexplicable reason, every character speaks with the same monotonous inflection.” Marsha Ann Scibella, however, came away with a rave. “She is a beauty, cool and refined. She moves well on stage, possesses a lissome flair and lifts the show from the doldrums with a ladylike effortlessness. She is Grace Kelly with a copy of Sex and the Single Girl under her arm.”
  • 1963
  • Comments: Among the nominees is Susan Flannery. In some accounts, she is identified as the actress who went on to fame in Days of Our Lives, The Bold and the Beautiful and The Towering Inferno, but Phoenix Little Theatre is not mentioned in her official biography.  A number of PLT veterans join her in the list of nominees: Sherri Chessen, Louis Leithold, Neil Levitt, Audrey Kastensmith, Jay Fineberg, Joseph Caruso and Bob Pollard.

Phoenix Theatre Jester 1963 001

Phoenix theatre jester 1963 002

  • APRIL 1963
  • Co-Production by Phoenix Little Theatre and Arizona Repertory Theatre Company.
  • Presented during PLT’s annual Shakespeare festival.
  • Director: Robert Begam.
  • Cast: Bob Aden, Fran Tolleson, Joseph Jenckes, Ted Fitz, Harry Balloni Jr., Royce Wyers, Bob Pollard, Sarah Jane Blumele, Jackie Qualman, Mel Pollack, Bob Gusick, Tom Burns, Jim Caddick, Lawrence Berscheld, Harry Mitchell, James Flanagan, Walter Burritt, Rod Kellogg, George Winship, Angelo Cesario.
  • Set Design: George Pettit, Van Peterson.
  • Stage Manager: Joan Plencner.
  • Lighting Design: Dick Shoemaker, Clare Calvert.
  • Comments: Fran was an actress of patrician looks and elegant bearing who nevertheless turn could turn on the sultry vamp when required. She received fine reviews for her Cleopatra as did Joe Jenckes for his Octavian and Robert Begam for his direction. Bob Aden was cast as Mark Antony in another classic directed for PLT by Begam. This was a co-production between PLT and Arizona Repertory Theatre and the multi-level set was co-designed by the companies’ technical directors, George Pettit and Van Peterson. Joan Plencner, from the Scottsdale Community Players, was in charge of things backstage as the stage manager. After a couple of seasons where PLT’s annual Shakespeare festival had run out of steam, this production put it back on the rails, drawing large and enthusiastic audiences.

Review by Helen Backer of the Arizona Republic, April 10, 1963

Arizona Repertory Theatre Antony & Cleopatra 001

  • MAY 1962
  • Playwright: Eugene O’Neill
  • Director: Zoe Johnson.
  • Cast: Veon Shupe, Mel Shelton, John Rawsthorne, Becky Munns, Marge Rutherford, Raymond Seitz, Mickey Jones, Vicki Shupe, Bryon Woodrow, Parker Smith, Michael Evans, Jerry Cole, Charlene Santee, Margaret Mowrey, Charles Emery and George Gilbert.
  • Assistant Director: Claire Galbraith.
  • Stage Manager: Jean Barber.
  • Comments. O’Neill’s Ah, Wilderness was atypical for him, a play about a more or less functional family. It takes place on the Fourth of July in 1906 and centers around the coming of age of the family’s 16-year-old son. It premiered on Broadway in 1933 with George M. Cohan and Elisha Cook Jr. and was made into a film (Wallace Beery, Mickey Rooney) in 1935, then was translated into the musical film, Summer Holiday (Rooney again), in 1948, and finally the Broadway musical, Take Me Along (Jackie Gleason), which opened in 1959.
  • JANUARY 1962. 
  • Playwright: Tennessee Williams.
  • Director: Robert Begam.
  • Cast: Helen Begam, Joe Jenckes, Robert Aden, Fay Bullock, Clara McWeim, Kim Williams, Christine Poulakidas, Hal Chidnoff, Jolene Watkins, Phil Schopper, Mark Watkins, Kelsey Weyers, Jim Reece, Joe Billings, Tom Johnson.

zz 444


  • 1961 
  • The Caine Mutiny Court Martial, Hamlet
  • Newspaper clipping and photos from The Arizona Republic

Phoenix Theatre, Hamlet 1961 001

  • 1961.
  • Playwright: Herman Wouk, using only one chapter of his novel, The Caine Mutiny, as a source.
  • Director: Robert Begam.
  • Assistant director: Helen Begam.
  • Stage Manger: Jackie Qualman.
  • Cast: Frank Mullen, Lee Prugh, Robert Aden, Steve McCall, Jim Thomas, William L. Hermann, Douglas Reed, Channing Duvall, Jerry Albert Svendsen, Paul J. Matte, Taylor Reed, Herbert Cooper, Ray Chavez, Bill Black (William Black), Jim McKenzie, Robert Laabs, Lawrence J. Sandell.
  • Comments: When ever it contemplated producing a serious Broadway drama, PLT turned to Robert Begam and his wife, Helen, for the directing chores. Inevitably, the result was a critical and audience hit. The cast in Mutiny was made up of some of the best-known actors of the period.  Robert Aden is still remembered for his Marc Antony in Antony and Cleopatra. Steve McCall, making his PLT debut, previously performed at Actors Lab Los Angeles and the Players Theatre of Hollywood . William L. Hermann was a reporter with the Phoenix Gazette. It was his acting debut. Jackie Qualman, who almost always was center stage (Ophelia in Hamlet) came back stage to manage the show for the Begams.

Phoenix Theatre 1961 Caine Mutiny Court Martial 001

  • APRIL 1961.
  • Hamlet
  • Scarlett Caywood, as Queen Elizabeth I, presided over a greens ceremony before each performance.
  • Playwright: William Shakespeare
  • Director: Robert Begam.
  • Assistant Director: Helen Begam.
  • Cast: Henry Balloni Jr., Trudy Hurley, Jackie Qualman, Fay Bullock, F. Lincoln D. Holmes, Michael Ivor, Jim Caddick, Lawrence Berscheid, Tom Burns. Jerry Albert Svendsen, William Reeves, Larry Sandell, Vade Long, John Dellisanti, Richard Mancini, Tom Marnell, James Marsh, Stan Vecchies, Ray McCready, William Reeves, Tom Stovern, Robert L. Stone, James Greenway, Mavis Aden, Linda Day, Ray Chavez, Thornton Garst.
  • Assistant Director: Sally Barker
  • Production Manager: Elizabeth Nance .
  • Comments: People often look at me askance when I tell them about Phoenix Theatre’s past. They think of it as a place where only community theater-type musicals and comedies were performed. Hardly. In its day, PT produced everything from Ibsen to Shakespeare to Ionesco to Williams, with actors and directors who often trained in New York and London. Take this Hamlet. Also on the stage at PT that month were The Merchant of Venice and Taliesin West Dance, directed by Iovanna Lloyd Wright, Frank Lloyd Wright’s daughter.
Henry Balloni Jr. played Hamlet in the 1961 Phoenix Theatre production.
Henry Balloni Jr. played Hamlet in the 1961 Phoenix Theatre production.
Jackie Qualman was Ophelia in the 1961 Phoenix Little Theatre production of "Hamlet."
Jackie Qualman was Ophelia in the 1961 Phoenix Little Theatre production of “Hamlet.”
Photograph that appeared in the March 19, 1961 Republic, featuring Jackie Qualman and Henry Balloni Jr. in Phoenix Theatre's Hamlet.
Photograph that appeared in the March 19, 1961 Republic, featuring Jackie Qualman and Henry Balloni Jr. in Phoenix Theatre’s Hamlet.
  • APRIL 1961
  • Towards Zero
  • Western United States premiere.
  • Playwright: Agatha Christie.
  • Director: Louis Leithold.
  • Cast: Sherri Chessen, Earl Burrows, Mary Ruth Robertson, Lois Selby Halladay, LeRoy Gainter, Edward Fitz, Jim McKenzie, Faun Tanner, Ed Hayes, Charles Viseur.
  • Comments: Not many people today remember Sherri Chessen, but if you were a theatergoer in the 1960s, you would have recognized her name immediately. Ed Hayes, LeRoy Gainter, Faun Tanner and Charles Viseur were supporting actors who also were well-known. There’s a bit of mystery about this one (appropriate since it was an Agatha Christie whodunit). Despite the what the clipping below says, Stuart Stevens didn’t play the lead. Earl Burrows stepped into the role one week before opening. Why Stevens left was never revealed.
  • Phoenix Theatre 1961 Toward Zero (Republic, April 3, 1961)
  •  JANUARY 1961
  • Playwright: Kyle Crichton
  • Director: Trudy Hurley.
  • Cast: Hal Chidnoff, Jacqueline Gaston, Henry Balloni Jr., Charlotte Francis, Fay Bullock, Rod Kellogg, William Black, Dick Jones, Sally Minning, Robert Davey, Erma Lange, Martha Ann Viseur, Ed Hayes, Vernon Jerome.
  • Assistant Director: Elizabeth Nance.
  • Stage Manager: Charles Viseur.
  • Comments: Kyle Chrichton based his play on a daughter’s memories of her father Anthony J. Drexel Biddle, a real person. Walter Pidgeon had his greatest non-film success in the title part, and played the role at the Sombrero Playhouse here. This was by way of being an all-star cast for Phoenix Little Theatre, beginning with its director. Trudy, who also won critical praise that year for her Gertrude in PLT’s Hamlet, directed many of the company’s biggest hits before leaving to form her own theater company in the Cave Creek-Carefree area and later to take over the reins at Max’s Dinner Theatre in Glendale. Hal, slightly better known as a director (The Rainmaker, Who Was That Lady?) was a popular actor as well. Jacqueline was just beginning her reign as one of the Valley’s leading stage personalities. Henry, regarded as the best of the city’s best young classical actors (Hamlet, Prince Hal), possessed a fine voice that was put to use in musicals. Charlotte and Fay were leading ladies lending support to this one, while Rod Kellogg, Dick Jones and stage manager Charles Viseur were well-known supporting actors at many of the Valley’s playhouses. Ms. Francis also was a well-known playwright.

Phoenix Theatre, 1961, The Happiest Millionaire 001

Phoenix Theatre 1961 The Happiest Millionaire 001

  • NOVEMBER 1960 
  • Playwright: Thornton Wilder.
  • Director: Olga Rogers.
  • SEPTEMBER 1960 
  • Director: Hal Chidnoff.
  • Cast: Liz Kneeland, Egil Skogstrom, Ted Mote, Norman Rignier.
  • Assistant Director: Jim Hurley (James Hurley).

phoenix theatre 1960 september, who was that lady 002

phoenix theatre 1960 september, who was that lady 001

SEPTEMBER 4, 1960 Arizona Republic

phoenix theatre 1960 sept 4 001 phoenix theatre sept 4, 1960 a phoenix theatre 1960 sept 4 003

phoenix theatre 1960 sept 4 005

  • JULY 1960.
  • Playwright: John Van Druten.
  • Director: Robert Cetti Jr.
  • Cast: Charlotte Francis, Walter Burritt, Susan Francis, Ella Marie Stout, Joseph Billings, Lucia Watkins, Dick Turner, M. Jeannie Wilhelm, Audrey Kastensmith, Irene Minter, Barbara Croxton, Carol Haugeland, Delwyn Ziegler, Phyllis Connole, Seena Matz, Lynda Hall, Lyn Blair, Keith Taylor, Elizabeth Estell, Charles Lowry Smith, Wanda Rivers and Jim Hurley.
  • Stage Manager: Henry Sargent Jr.
  • Comments: Propelled by Charlotte’s critic-rousing performance as Mama, this was one of Phoenix Little Theatre’s biggest hits in years. Charlotte’s on-stage brood included her own daughter, Susan Francis. Burritt, who played Papa, had been absent from the PLT boards for three years, but was fondly remembered for Call Me Madam in 1956 and Macbeth in ’57. He also starred in Kismet for the Phoenix Civic Light Opera (which evolved into Phoenix Musical Theatre). Ella Marie played the daughter who became a writer (and who, in real life wrote the book on which the play is based). In 1959, Ella Marie won PLT’s best actress award for her role in Bus Stop. An Iowa native, she worked with Charlotte in Charlotte’s company, the Scottsdale Roadrunners. Joseph Billings made his PLT debut as Uncle Chris. Previously, he spent 14 years in the Air Force, where he had formed community theaters on several bases. Bob Cetti Jr. was director. Like many stage people, he wore several hats. He had assisted the directors of Mr. Roberts and Candida and acted in Inherit the Wind, Henry V and A Hatful of Rain. With its 32 performers, this production boasted one of the largest PLT casts up until that time.

Phoenix Theatre 1960 I Remember Mama 002

  • FEBRUARY 1960.
  • Playwright: Tennessee Williams.
  • Director: Joseph Caruso.
  • Assistant Director: Helen Begam.
  • Cast: Robert Begam, Fay Bullock, Jackie Qualman, Hal Chidnoff.
  • Comments. Robert was Tom, Fay was Amanda, Jackie  was Laura and Hal was the Gentleman Caller in this well-received production of the Tennessee William’s classic. Bob’s wife, Helen, who apparently never strayed from his side, was assistant director for Caruso. Williams wrote his celebrated “memory play” in 1944, but it has held up well. Not only PLT but several other companies have mounted the show over the years. Crystal animals have legs, in show-biz parlance. The show always does well at the box-office.
  • JANUARY 1960.
  • Candida
  • Playwright: George Bernard Shaw.
  • Director: Robert Stout.
  • Cast: Helen Begam, Bob Cetti Jr., Alan L. Feinstein, Morris Huggins, Martha Ann Viseur, David Olson.
  • Scenic Design: Bill Suderman.
  • Comments. Once again, Helen Begam amazed the local critics. She didn’t do badly with the public, either. This production of Shaw’s comedy played to several sold-out houses. Some of the patrons were no doubt curious about Feinstein.  He appeared in the off-Broadway production of The Big Knife, later made into a Jack Palance movie. For the record, Alan played the minister whose wife (Helen) was the object of the passions of a young man (Robert Cetti Jr.).  The play was written in 1898, making this an early entry in cougar lit. Interestingly, every review of the play mentioned the costumes, which were deemed gorgeous. Not one of the critics mentioned the costumer’s name. No one said life in the theater was easy on the ego.
  • Charlotte Buchen’s review in the Arizona Republic
Arizona Republic, Jan. 8, 1960.
Arizona Republic, Jan. 8, 1960.

Phoenix Theatre 1960 Candida 002