Philadelphians are tough, says Alexander Fraser, producing director of the Bucks County Playhouse and a transplant from New York’s theater scene.
It’s hard to convince them that things have changed in New Hope, the eclectic and LGBTQ-friendly haven for hippies, artists, and all kinds of bikers, with its shops and bars and, of course, the Playhouse.
“It’s been easier to get new people [i.e. New Yorkers] to come and revel in the beauty” of this historic village along the Delaware River, he said.
Philadelphians have it stuck in their minds that “New Hope is faded and there’s no parking and it’s not a place to go. It wasn’t nice then and it couldn’t be nice now,” he said.
“But things do change,” he said.
Philadelphians listen up: Maybe it’s time for another look.
The Playhouse, which, for 80 years had brought Broadway stars for summer productions on the Delaware River, has been rescued from its leaky roof and general sadness by the Bridge Street Foundation, powered by Sherri and Kevin Daugherty. The couple made their wealth in Detroit and settled in New Hope.
Mamma Mia!, the highest-grossing production in the Playhouse’s 80-year history, wrapped up earlier this month. Now Sally Struthers (remember her from All in the Family?) co-stars with Carter Calvert in Always … Patsy Cline.
In the production, which opened Friday and runs through Sept. 7, Struthers plays a Houston housewife who forms an unlikely, lifelong friendship with country music crooner Patsy Cline. Based on a true story, it showcases 27 Patsy Cline songs.
But there’s more.
Fraser cites a tourism study by the Disney organization concluding that people are more willing to travel longer distances for leisure if there is more to do at the destination. That, he said, is now the Playhouse’s story – two restaurants, an inn, and a river promenade — plus theater.
“We’re drawing from West Virginia, northern New York state, because New Hope is offering more reasons to come,” he said. In December, the Bridge Street Foundation opened the Deck Restaurant and Bar, the kind of brews-on-tap place with a river view that New Hope needed but didn’t have. All profits from the restaurant feed the Playhouse.
A river promenade, also new, connects the nonprofit Playhouse and Deck to the couple’s for-profit ventures, which both opened this summer. Jose Garces partly sources his new upscale restaurant, Stella by Jose Garces, from his 40-acre farm nearby. Indoor and outdoor seating allow beautiful river views.
The affiliated, 15-room boutique Ghost Light Inn takes its name from the theatrical tradition of a standing lamp left lit on stage so theater ghosts can perform when the theater is dark.
Still a problem, Fraser said, adding that the Playhouse offers valet parking to anyone – not just patrons of the restaurants and theater.
... and in the wings
Fly out beyond Valley Forge for Birds of North America, set on an estate in the countryside The publicist promises actual birds (herons!), but the play, a production of Theater with a View, is about the relationship between a father, himself an avid birder, and his adult daughter, and what changes over time.
Anna Moench’s play was a 2017 Kilroys List Honorable Mention. Kilroys List is an industry survey of new plays by women, trans, and nonbinary playwrights. The play, at Sycamore Hill, 481 Ebelhare Road, Pottstown, runs Sept. 4-14. Info: theaterwithaview.com.