Memorial Hall in Dayton was home to countless events over the decades, and among the most notable recurring events were Kenley Players shows. LISA POWELL/STAFF/FILE
Photo: Staff Writer
Photo: Staff Writer

Who else remembers the Kenley Players productions at Memorial Hall?

Pandemic cancels live productions for the foreseeable future, but some of us still have our memories of summer stock theater in downtown Dayton

Every theater and performing arts venue in the region (and pretty much the whole world, for that matter) is empty and dark for the foreseeable future due to the you-know-what pandemic, so what better time to take a trip down memory lane?

Let’s begin and end in downtown Dayton, home of Memorial Hall.

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The venue hosted all kinds of events — all kinds — during the 110 years of its existence. But certainly one of its biggest claims to fame, at least for those of us Daytonians of a certain, well, vintage, is the Kenley Players summer-stock theater series that called Memorial Hall home.

John Kenley produced annual summer seasons from the late 1950s through the early ’80s. FILE
Photo: Staff Writer

John Kenley’s name was once a synonym for theater in Dayton. He produced annual summer seasons from the late 1950s through the early ’80s, routinely selling out Memorial Hall several nights a week. At the peak of his career, Kenley’s productions were also being watched by large and enthusiastic crowds in Warren, Akron and Columbus, according to the Dayton Daily News archives. And he lived to 103 before passing away in 2009.

Those Kenley Players productions were near and dear to my family. My brother Stephen Hill worked for four years in the production end of the Kenley shows as technical apprentice, lighting apprentice, technical director and assistant house manager from 1966 through 1969. My mom, Ivalu Fisher, worked in the Memorial Hall ticket office during the summer selling tickets to those very well-attended shows. And for a couple of summers, my dad, John Fisher, who spent the school year teaching government at Belmont High School, worked as an unarmed, not-very-menacing security guard, watching over the stars’ dressing-room doors and turning away the occasional groupie.

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We were a Kenley family. I was the youngest sibling, so I attended just a handful of shows each year — but every Paul Lynde performance, because, well, he was my favorite. Every year, Paul’s shows (I’d like to think we were on a first-name basis) would bring down the house. I felt the same way Dayton audiences felt watching every show: We were rubbing shoulders with Hollywood Royalty. Sure, a snob could argue some of these “stars” were past their prime, but that didn’t matter to us. We Daytonians are many things. But we are not snobs.

Photos from Kenley Players cast parties can be seen in this file photo of a Marion's Piazza. FILE

And then there were the legendary cast parties held at Marion’s Piazza on Shroyer Road in Dayton. Wow, if those walls could talk. And actually, they can. Check out the signed photos and portraits of the stars on the walls of that Marion’s restaurant. They’re a window into the past.

But it’s not the only window. I found (well, Google found) a web site, kenleyplayershistory.com, that listed every Kenley production at Memorial Hall from 1966 to 1983, with the added bonus of 1995, accompanied by the show’s headliner.

When we published that list on Dayton.com a couple of weeks ago, the post elicited a flood of memories from our web readers. Here’s a small taste:

• “Thank you so much for sharing this! What a great trip down Memory Lane! I saw many of these and had forgotten what a wonderful treasure the Kenley Players was to our community!” — Linda Walker Howard

• “My parents took us to see ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ with Ed Ames in 1977. We then celebrated their wedding anniversary in 1980 by taking them to dinner at the King Cole for Châteaubriand and to see ‘Chapter Two’ with Joyce Dewitt at Memorial Hall. Wonderful memories!” — Dolores Stonecypher

• “Ah, the Kenley days! Nothing quite like them. I grew up watching them. First performed in ‘Shenandoah’ in ’79 with Ed Ames. In ’80 and ’81, I assisted manager Tom Schantz for Kenley at Memorial Hall. In ’82, toured with ‘West Side Story,’ ’83 toured ‘Promise, Promises’ and ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ with William Conrad. John Kenley was a mentor, and a truly amazing person!” — Kevin Moore

• “Got to meet a lot of the ‘stars’ as I was the liaison at the hotel where they stayed. Majority of them were extremely nice … but my favorite was Vincent Price and his wife. They ate in the dining room almost every night and were so gracious when people would interrupt their dinners. The funniest were Dom DeLuise and James Coco. Both of them skipped the dinners and went straight to the cocktail lounge and told so many jokes they practically did their whole routines for all the customers.” — Cyndy Budenz

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Paul Lynde
Photo: Submitted

And by the way, that Kenley Players History website describes Paul Lynde as “the most popular Kenley Player of all time.” So I guess my taste in theater was shared by many of my fellow Daytonians.

What’s your fondest memory of Kenley Players? Share it with us on the Dayton Daily News Facebook page, and read what others have to say.

To jog your memory (not that it needs jogging, but, hey, we’re not spring chickens any more), here’s the list of shows as described on kenleyplayershistory.com. Enjoy!

HISTORY OF KENLEY PLAYERS SHOWS IN DAYTON

1966

How to Succeed in Business (Jerry Van Dyke and Billy DeWolfe)

Private Lives (Richard Chamberlin)

Kismet (Gordon MacRae)

Any Wednesday (Connie Stevens)

Bells Are Ringing (Edie Adams)

Who Was That Lady… (John Forsythe)

The Boy Friend (Juliet Prowse)

The Women (Marge Champion, Dagmar and Gloria Swanson)

Oklahoma! (Robert Horton)

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Carroll Baker)

The Sound of Music (Shirley Jones)

South Pacific (Florence Henderson)

1967

Funny Girl (Shari Lewis)

Barefoot in the Park (George Maharis and Jessica Walter)

On a Clear Day… (Shirley Jones)

West Side Story (Anna Marie Alberghetti)

Bye Bye Birdie (Gene Barry and Totie Fields)

Luv (Mickey Rooney, Dom DeLuise and Joan Rivers)

Sweet Charity (Janis Paige)

The Odd Couple (Gig Young and Robert Q. Lewis)

Half a Sixpence (Noel Harrison)

The Philadelphia Story (George Hamilton)

Do I Hear a Waltz? (Anita Bryant)

Finian’s Rainbow (Barbara Eden)

1968

Irma La Douce (Juliet Prowse)

The Fantasticks (John Gavin and Edward Everett Horton)

Take Me Along (Arthur Godfrey and Vivian Blaine)

Generation (Robert Cummings)

Pal Joey (Buddy Greco, Anne Jeffreys and Dagmar)

Goodbye Charlie (Martha Raye)

Can-Can (Joey Heatherton)

The Man Who Came to Dinner (Jack Cassidy, Joan Caulfield and Joan Bennett)

The Student Prince (John Gary)

The Great Sebastians (Van Johnson and Sheila MacRae)

Call Me Madam (Ethel Merman)

Where’s Charley (Noel Harrison)

1969

How Now, Dow Jones (Dean Jones and Jessica Walter)

Cactus Flower (Bob Crane and Abbe Dalton)

Gypsy (Jo Anne Worley)

My Fair Lady (Jane Powell)

You Know I Can’t Hear You… (Arte Johnson and Chester Morris)

Happy Time (Allan Jones and George Chakiris)

The Impossible Years (Paul Lynde)

The Unsinkable Molly Brown (Vikki Carr)

Walking Happy (Noel Harrison)

Show Off (Dick Shawn)

Camelot (John Raitt)

The King and I (Patrice Munsel)

1970

Cabaret (Joel Grey and Anita Gillette)

Marriage-Go-Round (Louis Jourdan & Vivian Blaine)

Show Boat (Ann Blyth & Andy Devine)

Don’t Drink the Water (Paul Lynde)

Plain and Fancy (Peter Marshall and Dody Goodman)

High Button Shoes (Soupy Sales and Jane Russell)

Nobody Loves an Albatross (Gig Young)

Man of La Mancha (Giorgio Tozzi)

My Daughter, Your Son (Vivian Vance and Dody Goodman)

Blossom Time (Sally Ann Howes)

I Do! I Do! (Edie Adams and Jack Cassidy)

Mame (Ann Miller)

1971

Hello, Dolly! (Ann Miller)

The Pleasure of His Company (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.)

George M! (Joel Grey)

Plaza Suite (Paul Lynde)

Most Happy Fella (Howard Keel)

Send Me No Flowers (Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence, L. Waggoner)

Fiddler on the Roof (Jan Peerce)

Forty Carats (Zsa Zsa Gabor)

The Great Waltz (Sally Ann Howes)

Anything Goes (Frankie Avalon and Joe Flynn)

Catch Me If You Can (Bill Bixby)

The Sound of Music (Barbara Eden)

1972

Can-Can (Ann Miller)

The Moon Is Blue (Karen Valentine and Don Ameche)

1776 (Joel Grey)

Butterflies Are Free (Eileen Heckart and Keir Dullea)

Oklahoma! (John Davidson)

The Last of the Red Hot Lovers (Dom DeLuise)

Meet Me in St. Louis (Jane Powell)

Milk and Honey (Gordon MacRae)

Come Blow Your Horn (Bill Bixby)

Good News (Alan Sues & New Christy Minstrels)

Everybody Loves Opal (Phyllis Diller)

Music in the Air (Giorgio Tozzi)

1973

Promises, Promises (Rich Little)

Born Yesterday (Karen Valentine)

Guys and Dolls (David Birney and Meredith Baxter)

My Daughter Is Rated X (Paul Lynde)

The Music Man (John Davidson)

The Pajama Game (Juliet Prowse)

How the Other Half Loves (George Maharis)

South Pacific (Ann Blyth)

Arsenic and Old Lace (William Shatner)

Applause (Alexis Smith)

The Prisoner of 2nd Avenue (Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara)

Once Upon a Mattress (Lucie Arnaz, Rudy Vallee and Kay Medford)

1974

No, No, Nanette (Gale Gordon, Vicki Lawrence, V. Mayo)

Finishing Touches (Robert Reed, Barbara Rush)

Kiss Me, Kate (Patrice Munsell and John Raitt)

Mother Is Engaged (Paul Lynde)

Annie Get Your Gun (Florence Henderson)

Sunday in New York (Desi Arnaz Jr.)

Take Me Along (Gene Kelly)

The Tunnel of Love (Martin Milner and Kent McCord)

Gigi (Lesley Ann Warren)

6 Rms Riv Vu (Sally Field and Jerry Orbach)

Oliver! (Vincent Price)

Luv (Dom DeLuise)

1975

Sugar (Mickey Rooney and Ken Berry)

Bus Stop (Karen Valentine and Rose Marie)

On a Clear Day… (Shirley Jones)

Stop, Thief, Stop! (Paul Lynde and Alice Ghostley)

She Loves Me (Jack Jones, Anita Gillette and Noel Harrison)

Under the Yum Yum Tree (McLean Stevenson)

Peter Pan (Sandy Duncan)

The Cooch Dancer (Edie Adams and Victor Buono)

Bittersweet (Roberta Peters)

Private Lives (Dyan Cannon and Keir Dullea)

Mack and Mabel (Karen Morrow and Terence Monk)

The Boy Friend (Rhonda Fleming)

1976

Room Service (Henry Winkler)

Irene (Jane Powell)

Norman, Is That You? (Harvey Korman)

A Funny Thing Happened (Sonny Bono)

Damn Yankees (Vincent Price)

Panama Hattie (Ann Miller)

Shenandoah (Ed Ames)

Accent on Youth (Ricardo Montalban)

Funny Girl (Carol Lawrence)

The Student Prince (Allan Jones and Rip Taylor)

George Washington Slept Here (James Coco and Dody Goodman)

A Little Night Music (Eva Gabor)

1977

The Merry Widow (Barbara Meister)

Never Too Late (Tom Bosley and Nanette Fabray)

Kismet (Hal Linden and Dolores Gray)

Anything Goes (Ann Miller and Bobby Van)

Heaven Can Wait (Peter Strauss)

Sweet Charity (Carol Lawrence)

Wonderful Town (Cloris Leachman)

Li’l Abner (Lucie Arnaz and Dirk Benedict)

Fiddler on the Roof (Ed Ames)

Grease (Roz Kelly and Barry Williams)

Make a Million (McLean Stevenson)

See-Saw (Lucie Arnaz and Terence Monk)

1978

Chicago (Allen Ludden and Sue Ann Langdon)

The Impossible Years (Paul Lynde)

Show Boat (Mickey Rooney)

California Suite (Brenda Vaccaro and James Farentino)

Pippin (Barry Williams and Maxene Andrews)

Paint Your Wagon (Gordon MacRae)

Count Dracula (John Gavin)

The King and I (Roberta Peters)

Man of La Mancha (John Raitt)

Mame (Kitty Carlisle and Don Ameche)

The Magic Show (Kenley Players)

1979

Oklahoma! (Dirk Benedict and Laurie Lea Schaffer)

Same Time Next Year (Katharine Helmond & Robert Mandan)

Ballroom (Audra Lindley)

Don’t Drink the Water (Paul Lynde)

Blossom Time (Kitty Carlisle and Allan Jones)

Walking Happy (Tommy Tune, Liz Allen and Jesse White)

Shenandoah (Ed Ames)

Hello, Dolly! (Betty White)

I Love My Wife (Smothers Brothers)

Picnic (Joe Namath)

Bubbling Brown Sugar (Cab Calloway)

1980

My Fair Lady (Pam Dawber)

Chapter Two (Joyce Dewitt and Tab Hunter)

Grease (Gary Sandy and Barry Williams)

Brigadoon (John Gabriel & Alan Sues)

The Wiz (Kenley Players)

South Pacific (Ed Ames)

The Sound of Music (Carol Lawrence)

Side by Side by Sondheim (Uggams, Alberghetti and Lamour)

Deathtrap (Robert Reed and Imogene Coca)

4 Girls 4 (Clooney, O’Connell, Rose Marie & Whiting)

1981

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (Debbie Boone)

Barefoot in the Park (Robert Urich)

Bye Bye Birdie (Bert Convy)

George M! (Ken Berry)

Camelot (Ed Ames)

How to Succeed in Business (Fred Grandy and Don Ameche)

The Music Man (Dick Gautier)

Ain’t Misbehavin’ (5th Dimension)

Cabaret (Billy Crystal)

Greenwich Village Scandals of 1923 (C. Charisse & I. Coca)

1982

Meet Me in St. Louis (Cathy Rigby)

Wally’s Café (Tim Conway)

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (Dottie West)

West Side Story (Barry Williams)

They’re Playing Our Song (Susan Anton)

New Four Girls (Rosemary Clooney)

Gigi (Patricia Morison)

The Pirates of Penzance (Karla DeVito)

The Unsinkable Molly Brown (Connie Stevens)

Oliver! (Rip Taylor)

1983

Promises, Promises (John James)

Annie (Martha Raye)

Catch Me If You Can (Wayne Rogers)

No, No, Nanette (Van Johnson and Gloria DeHaven)

Barnum (Gary Sandy)

Goodbye Charlie (Morgan Fairchild)

Pal Joey (Joel Grey and Alexis Smith)

High Button Shoes (Gavin McLeod)

Fiddler on the Roof (William Conrad)

Artists, Models and Madness (Phil Ford and Mimi Hines)

1995

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Loni Anderson)

The Man Who Came to Dinner (Tony Randall and Valerie Perrine)

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (Barbara Eden)

South Pacific (Robert Goulet)

The Student Prince (Jerome Hines)

Man of La Mancha (David Canary)

The Mitzi Gaynor Show (Mitzi Gaynor)

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