John L. Price
Actor, producer and impresario John L. "Johnny" Price Jr. died Wednesday, June 20, 2012, in Cleveland, Ohio. Friends and family members said Price, 92, had been in ill health in recent years. A trailblazer of American regional theater, Price personified the nation's post-World War II enthusiasm for summer stock playhouses in the golden age of the American musical.
Price was born in Cleveland in 1920 to a mother with a keen interest in local theater. Price picked up that interest early and, as a high school student, not only acted in local theater, but also wrote and produced Ohio radio programs.
In World War II, Price enlisted in the Navy and completed officers training at Notre Dame in 1943. He was a lieutenant and skipper of an LCT (landing craft-tank) that reached Utah Beach in the first wave of the Normandy invasion on D-Day.
Price came home to Ohio and dived headlong into the entertainment business. He produced, directed and appeared in musical theater in Cleveland. He travelled the vaudeville circuit as an actor and stage manager with luminaries including Jane Russell and Ed Gardner of "Duffy's Tavern" fame. He created and produced three local television variety shows and was even a TV weatherman.
Price's wide-ranging experience positioned and trained him perfectly to create the Midwest's pre-eminent musical theater, Musicarnival. Housed in a permanent in-the-round theater tent seating 2,500 and built on the Thistledown Race Track, Musicarnival opened with a production of "Oklahoma!" in 1954. Every summer, Price produced what are now considered the classics of musical theater -- "Paint Your Wagon," "Carousel" and "Kiss Me, Kate" -- and featured popular solo acts including Louis Armstrong, Henny Youngman and Tom Jones. A highlight and hallmark of every show was Price springing to the stage in his signature red jacket to welcome his audience. Price also opened a Musicarnival theater in West Palm Beach, Fla.
The Ohio Musicarnival closed in 1976 with a production of "Grease." But the foresighted impresario donated his collection of photographs, props and other memorabilia -- a treasure trove comprising more than 50,000 objects -- to the Cleveland Public Library as the "John L. Price, Jr. Musicarnival Archives" in 2001. Those archives contained some 300 delicate reel-to-reel audio tapes recording the comprehensive musical history of Musicarnival -- more than 90 musicals and operettas Price produced in "The Tent." The tapes are now being restored and remastered by the Cleveland-based Musical Theater Project.
Price, a one-time resident of Key West, is survived by four children, John, Diana, Philip and Madeleine. His longtime partner, Judith Daykin, lives in the couple's Key West home.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Cleveland Public Library to acquire listening stations for the John L. Price, Jr., Musicarnival Archives, Cleveland Public Library, Financial Services, 325 Superior Ave., Cleveland, OH 44114, or to The Musical Theatre Project, 11820 Edgewater Ave., Suite 512, Lakewood OH 44107, to digitize additional performance recordings for the Musicarnival Archives.
Contact Matthew Helmerich at 305-923-9259.