Civic Theatre of Allentown
Civic is dedicated to producing live theatre of high standards of artistic excellence, capitalizing on the physicality, presence, and immediacy of theatre as an art form and providing a creative outlet and training ground for local artists.
Civic is devoted to developing the artists and audiences of the future. Established more than 60 years ago, Civic Theatre School programs provide training in the theatre arts to over 300 children each year, developing self-expression, discipline, and teamwork as well as an appreciation for the art of theatre.
Finally, Civic is committed to being the premiere non-commercial film venue in the Lehigh Valley, showing the latest releases and best selection of award-winning art films, including documentaries, American independent, and international films that are an alternative to commercial film cinema, keeping in mind its diverse audience. We thank you for visiting our website and taking the time to learn about our Theatre. Please plan to visit us soon!
John Kohl and Fred McCready, two Call-Chronicle reporters, discuss the idea of starting up a "little" theatre for Allentown (as tradition would have it) over lunch in a tearoom called The Louisianne. Shortly thereafter, in the midst of the nationwide “little theatre” movement, the Civic “Little” Theatre is founded.
Civic's first production, a one-act play titled Suppressed Desires, is presented in June, at Allentown's National Guard Armory. Civic has been producing theatre continuously ever since.
The Nineteenth Street Theatre, which at that time had nothing to do with Civic Theatre, opens in September of this year; the first film shown is Sawdust Paradise starring Esther Ralston.
The first full Civic season begins, featuring Civic's first full-length production, Daisy Mayme.
Civic moves into its first real theatre, the Madison, at Thirteenth and Chew Streets, where the theatre company lives until 1949.
A Christmas Carol gets its first Civic Theatre adaptation this year. It will be several decades, though, before A Christmas Carol becomes a beloved annual tradition.
Its official, Civic is incorporated, though it won't have a permanent home for another 19 years.
Marcella Hilbert makes her Civic debut in The Women with the role Second Cutie. She would go on to act in many of Civic's productions this decade; the scrapbook she kept during that time was eventually found at a yard sale and donated to Civic Theatre. Many of the pictures you see on the next two pages were in that scrapbook.
The famous (in Civic circles) Papa Is All opens to unprecedented success, directed by Evelyn Brong Hawk. A Pennsylvania German dialect play, Papa runs for 38 performances, with another 28 in '47. The play held the record for longest-running Civic show, until the current production of A Christmas Carol broke it in 1996.
The Madison Theater is sold, leaving Civic Theatre homeless for the time being. Temporary homes include the Lyric Theatre, Allentown High School and Muhlenberg College. A box office is set up on the main floor of the PPL building and revues such as the next year's original Strike A New Note are held to raise money for a new building.
This year's production of Laff That Off is Civic's 100th mainstage show.
Civic produces Daphne du Maurier's play Rebecca, and asks Allentown High School students to paint the title character as they imagined her for use in the show. Clyde T. Bishoff, then president of CLT, offers free admission to anyone named Rebecca for two of the three performances.
The Civic Theatre School is founded on the principle of "giving each child the assurance of what he is capable of doing himself," in the words of the school's first director, Mrs. Ralpha Senderowitz Civic Theatre School is still going strong today, offering a variety of classes for kids in kindergarten through high school.
Civic finds a permanent home when, with the generous assistance of the General Harry C. Trexler estate, the group is finally able to purchase a building of its own: the historic Nineteenth Street Theatre you are sitting in right now. A grand opening happens in November with the first performance of Janus, with introductions from Charles Hoch, then Chairman of the Board of Governors, and Donald Hock, then
Mayor of Allentown.
Bell Labs contributes to Civic Theatre history. When the male lead in Middle of the Night is unable to perform, Bell rigs a hearing aid to a walkie-talkie, and Al Jeffers goes on without a book.
Betty Muir, who had performed in numerous Civic productions at that point, earns her Actor's Equity card. The first thing Equity does is deny her permission to act in Civic's production of Under the Yum-Yum Tree. Betty would go on to act professionally for the rest of her career, and a Civic Theatre School scholarship is named in her honor. Thanks to the Muir family's continued support and commitment, the Scholarship program now provides 3 annual scholarships to Civic's Theatre School.
One of Civic's legendary directors, John Kichline, must fill in for one of his actors during the first act of Brigadoon's opening performance, as said actor was busy sleeping.
Civic Theatre celebrates its 40th anniversary with a special show on May 10th. 40 years later, Civic would decide to hold off celebrating their 80th anniversary until after the 80th season, a first for Civic anniversary celebrations.
Henry McClenahan, who was growing a goatee for this year’s production of The Man Who Came to Dinner, is suspended from his position as a schoolteacher for the extra facial hair. This headline-grabbing story goes on for days until his school board finally reverses the decision.
Allentown's John Holmes, a professional electrician who had roles in the Civic productions of Gypsy, Becket and Oliver (for which he among onerin ero uinore dionside Sean Connery and Richard Harris in The Molly McGuires, the film shot in Jim Thorpe about 19th century coal miners. While uncredited,
Holmes had lines and a close-up in a courtroom scene featuring Harris and Connery.
Civic's 200th mainstage production, Camelot, opens.
A genuine working elevator is rigged for this year's production of Company. When it is put to use, however, it did not go up- the roof, instead, came down.
Sharon Glassman is elected president of the Board of Directors of the Civic Little Theatre. She has since led the organization's volunteer Board throughout Civic's rise to its present reputation for artistic excellence and community service and still holds this position today.
11-year old Laurie Miller, now known as Lara Jill Miller, plays Randolph MacAfee (a bov) in Bye Bye Birdie.
Lara is on Broadway the next year, and in 1981 joins the cast of the NBC television show Gimme a Break!
A talented voice actress, Lara can currently be heard lending voices to numerous animated programs.
Daniel Roebuck, then a 17-year old Bethlehem resident, makes his Civic debut as James Keller in The Miracle Worker. Daniel would go on to star in TV's Matlock, in addition to having roles in numerous films, including The Fugitive, River's Edge and Late Shift, the controversial film in which he starred as popular late night host Jay Leno. Leno often complimented Daniel's performance in the film when asked by guests about it.
Charles H. Hoch, known lovingly as “Mr.CLT,” dies at the age of 90. President of the Board of Governors for more than 20 years, Mr. Hoch was responsible for Civic’s purchase of the Nineteenth Street Theatre and for putting Civic on firm financial ground.
Christine Taylor, then a 15-year old Civic Theatre School and Allentown central Catholic student, makes her Civic mainstage debut as Chava in Fiddler on the Rood. Taylor would go on to star as Marcia Brady in the Brady Bunch movies of the 90s, in addition to featured roles in The Wedding Singer, Zoolander, Dodgeball and TV’s Friends and Seinfeld.
Civic scores a coup when Board of Governors President Barry Glassman convinces Jason Miller, a star in film The Exorcist and Pulitzer Prize winning playwright of That Championship Season, to star in Civics production of that show. One of the five actors in That Championship Season is Sam Guncler, who would go on to star on Broadway in addition to landing roles on The Sopranos and Law & Order.
The Nineteenth Street Film Series is adopted by the Civic Theatre organization. Prior to 1989, second-run films were shown by an independent company who were renting out the theatre. When they chose to discontinue their relationship, a call went out to the community, and the 19th Street Film Series was born. Now the international and independent films are a popular destination for Lehigh Valley filmgoers.
The Theatre’s first full-time Artistic Director, William Sanders, is hired. He is joined in 1996 by the Civic Theatre’s full-time Managing Director, Scott Snyder, and in 1997 by a Technical Director, Valerie Narehood.
Although it had been staged a few times before at Civic, this year marks the first of what has been 16 straight years of our December production of A Christmas Carol
After three years of fundraising, Civic’s Shine Your Light fund-raising campaign gathers enough money to refurbish the front marquee, in addition to adding the lights that currently brighten the façade at night. Two-Hundred people come to witness the lighting ceremony held before the premiere of Secret Garden.
Civic’s 300th mainstage show, a production of A Streetcar Named Desire, opens.\
The former Civic “Little” Theatre of Allentown officially changes its name, to become simply Civic Theatre of Allentown
Civic Artistic Director William Sanders take a hiatus to assist Joe Mantello on Neil Simon’s Proposals, one of the many productions on which he works with Mr. Mantello over their twenty-five year friendship and collaboration. They both look forward to more. Proposals, A Man of No Importance, and the Tony-winning Love! Valour! Compassion! Are all subsequently seen at Civic.
Civic becomes the first community theatre in the nation to produce Angels in America, Tony Kushner’s epic two-part play dealing with gay men in the dawn of the AIDS generation. Civic’s production is met with critical and public acclaim; the stoy is later adapted into an HBO miniseries starring Al Pacino and Meryl Streep.
Civic purchases a second facility to create additional classroom space and a black box theatre for live performances and films, and to make way in the original facility for first floor restrooms by moving the Scene Shop to a new space. The theatre hires John P. Toner as its first full-time Development Director, to oversee fundraising for the growing capital campaign.
Civic Installs street-level, fully accessible restrooms in the 19th Street Theatre and a new, state-of-the-art film sound and projection system.
Civic Theatre’s Resident Actor/Intern Company Is established. The company preforms as part of the outreach program and in mainstage productions, but, more importantly, becomes an integral part of technical and administrative operations at the theatre.
Theatre 514, the new black box space across the street from the Nineteenth Street Theatre, opens for performances, on Friday, the 13th of February with Sing Happy: The Music of Kander and Ebb.
Civic Celebrates its 80th anniversary in July with a three-day series of events called the Civic Spectacular. With yearly stage attendance and film memberships consistently growing, Civic looks forward to putting together the 100th anniversary celebration.
After a successful capital campaign, generated by Dr. Barry and Sharon Lee Glassman and a vibrant campaign committee along with the Board of Directors and Staff, Civic Theatre closes after the annual A Christmas Carol for 9 months to renovate the first-floor interiors, auditorium and infrastructure. Productions move to Cedar Crest College under a generous partnership with the college.
The theatre reopens the fabulous historically renovated 19th Street Theatre with the area premiere of the Tony-winning musical “Billy Elliot” to great acclaim.
After efficiently navigating the perils of the COVID pandemic Civic Theatre reopens and continues to create, inspire, and entertain.
Civic Theatre produces the Lehigh Valley premier of “The Color Purple” which plays to sell out audiences.
As we look toward the future... And our 100th anniversary, there is always more to be done, more people to serve, more spaces to update, more stories to share, more artists to welcome. The great work begins.
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The following list of the nearly 400 productions Civic Theatre of Allentown has produced in its 90 years of existence.
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