Thursday, September 26, 2013

Love for Theatre Fuels a Lifetime

Seated on the terrace at South Coast Repertory, Leonard and Fran Rich are brimming with anticipation. As they wait for the Tuesday evening chimes to sound the five-minute call to be seated in the theatre, they are passionate and animated about their love for theatre—the art in general and SCR in particular.  They’ve been audience members at SCR for more than 30 years.  For both, theatre is an avocation they “truly and deeply love.” One home to them is SCR. Leonard writes:

“I was fortunate to have been raised by parents who enjoyed the theater. Although St. Louis, Missouri lacked the quantity and variety of theaters found in New York or (now) in Los Angeles, we did have the renowned St. Louis Municipal Opera during the summers and the American Theater, a venue for travelling troupes during the fall, winter and spring seasons.

The Municipal Opera, recognized as the MUNY, allowed us to see the best of musical operetta under the stars. Recognized lead performers were cast for each show and supported by an annual repertory cast for singing, dancing and other supporting roles. An orchestra, largely populated by members of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra during their off season, provided a classy musical background.

Starting at age 4, I was introduced to Rudolf Friml, George Gershwin, Oscar Hammerstein, Victor Herbert, Moss Hart, Sigmund Romberg, Cole Porter and many other fabulous composers and of the era via the MUNY. My grandfather was usually given tickets in exchange for his articles in the newspaper that he edited.

In 1943, my father’s wartime job led to my first visit to New York—at age 11—and the opportunity to see the original cast production of Oklahoma. Unfortunately, at the time of my attendance, Curley was played by an understudy, not Alfred Drake. Another memorable experience was the opportunity to see a special performance for the sale of war bonds, which included the number “Oh How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning” by the legendary Irving Berlin.

The theatrical exposure continued as I grew up in St. Louis, attending performances at both venues with my parents.

During a short military career, a brief trip to New York provided me with the opportunity to see the New Faces of 1953, with its fabulous cast of future stars of stage and screen. While in that same army career, largely stationed in Detroit, I had the opportunity to see a traveling performance of Kismet.

Fran and I married in 1956. She quickly became a kindred aficionado of the theater. In 1964, at the urging of my parents we visited New York and had the thrill of seeing The Sound of Music with Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel. Mary Martin was a magical performer! The room was electrified with the energy of a truly charismatic personality.

With the progression of time, additional theatrical venues appeared in St. Louis. These included the Loretto Hilton Theater at Webster College, the Edison Theater at Washington University and the Westport Playhouse, all of which provided quality theatrical entertainment.

In 1982, we moved to California and were immediately attracted to SCR. We were immediately impressed and delighted by the post performance discussions on Tuesday nights, now the “talk backs” We were further impressed by the current play dissertations in the “Subscriber” and the performance program. Add to that, the brilliant commentary from Jerry Patch and John Glore. Each provided a delightful and challenging perspective which often made a complex play theme understandable.

For more than 30 years, we have been subscribers to and attended performances at South Coast Repertory.

We have thoroughly enjoyed the members of the repertory company present when we first became attendees. Now, as we enjoy current performances by Richard Doyle and Hal Landon, Jr., We also appreciatively remember the work of Martha McFarland, John David Keller, Art Koustic and many others.

Fran became an active and enthusiastic member of the Theater Guild. The 1980s and early 1990s were an era of engagement and involvement, which is fondly remembered. In those earlier days, personal participation by leading guided tours of the theater and speaking about the theater to a variety of community organizations was extremely satisfying.

As subscribers to the two SCR Stages, and attendees to many NewSCRipt stagings, many of the new StudioSCR series, we have consistently been aware of the professionalism of the performers, the quality of the staging, the uniqueness of the sponsorship of new works and many other aspects. We particularly enjoy and appreciate the willingness to present controversial and avant guarde topics and ideas which are not always as expected in conservative Orange County.  The spontaneous action of Orson Bean to cover a stagecraft malfunction in Smokefall was unique.

As consistent theater buffs, we have also been season subscribers to such other venues as Pasadena Playhouse, the Ahmanson Theater, Chance Theater, California State University Fullerton Theater Arts and frequent attendees at productions at the Geffen Theater, the Laguna Playhouse, the Kirk Douglas Theater, etc. with SCR as the hub.  We appreciate and enjoy the vast body of theatrical talent that is found in metropolitan Los Angeles and is just waiting to be discovered.

We would estimate seeing nearly 100 live performances annually. Perhaps we were born to be the ‘4th Wall’ It is an avocation which we deeply and truly enjoy.”


  1. OMG, I love these folks. Fran is a remarkable lady with an incredible amount of love for SCR. So glad to see they are still involved. Send them my very best. Marc Ravenhill

  2. What a wonderful story...we only go back 25 years, and probably see about 10 plays per year, but we know of what the Riches speak!