The award winning Francis Wilson Playhouse (FWP) will pay homage to the theater's namesake in, "Francis Wilson - The Musical, The Man & His Theater", June 8-18.
Wilson was a famous New York stage actor and colorful winter resident of Clearwater until his death in 1935.
Gil Perlroth, who composed script and music, wrote the show especially for FWP. Perlroth has composed music and lyrics for some twenty musicals and is the author of "Christmas is for Children", a play that runs throughout the United States annually.
James Grenelle, director and choreographer said, "Everything that happens in the show is historically correct. Gil researched Wilson's career, even traveling to New York. The show is a good insight into Wilson's life."
Hailing from Philadelphia and of Quaker descent, vaudevillian Wilson's star rose when he was named the National Fencing Champion in 1876. He found further fame on Broadway as a leading performer and dancer, composer of plays and music, and founder of his own opera company.
Wilson's portrayal of Cadeaux in Erminie brought him lasting notoriety. He appeared in many musical successes into the 1920s, including the lead in Cyrano de Bergerac and in "The Bachelor's Baby," his own play.
Wilson left two distinct legacies to theater and acting. He helped found the Actors Equity Association and he raised the funds to build the Francis Wilson Playhouse and promote Clearwater Community Theater.
In 1913 Wilson along with other actors founded the Actors Equity Association, which improved wages and working conditions for actors.
According to the association, actors at the time were abused, rehearsed without pay, were made to pay for their own costumes, and were often left stranded on the road. One producer may have summed their situation up best when he quipped, "It was dog eat dog and vice versa."
Wilson served as the association's first president from 1913-1920. Upon hearing of Actor's Equity, Wilson's contemporary, the famous actor and producer, George M. Cohan, was to have said, "I will drive an elevator for a living before I will do business with any actors' union." Later a sign appeared in Times Square reading, "ELEVATOR OPERATOR WANTED. GEORGE M. COHAN NEED NOT APPLY."
In 1935 while wintering in Clearwater at his home on 400 Osceloa, Wilson convinced Mary Curtis Bok, from the Curtis publishing family to contribute $5,000 for the construction of a permanent home for the Clearwater Players, the community's homeless, nomadic theatric group.
Bok agreed to make the contribution and humbly insisted it not be named for her but instead for Wilson. A bronze plaque which hangs over the fireplace in the theater's lobby was the only thanks she would accept from the grateful Clearwater Players.
On June 21,1935, Wilson laid the cornerstone for the theater. In his ceremonial speech he said, "It is an opportunity for the gifted and not-so-gifted to express themselves…to entertain with great stories by brilliant dramatists."
The illustrious Wilson died shortly after at his New York home.
FWP continues to entertain with great stories by brilliant dramatists annually with eight family oriented main-stage plays. Summer theater workshops are held for students, ages 12-17.
The theater is located at 302 Seminole Street, Clearwater. Show dates are June 8 through June 18, 2006. Tickets are priced at $23 for adults and $10 for students. For reservations: phone (727) 446-1360 1:30 - 5:30, Monday through Friday.
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