Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Theater on the front cover - The Poli

In 1900, B.F. Keith, E.F. Albee and F.F. Proctor formed the United Booking Office. Through it they quickly gained a monopoly over vaudeville talent. Poli, an independent theater operator from Connecticut had opened his series of theaters in the East with the profits from his New Haven operation. When United Booking wanted control, Poli resisted. As a result, Keith and Albee wired every bank in every city where Poli had a theater. Their announcement that they planned to open a rival house placed a financial squeeze forcing Poli into the Keith Circuit giving Scranton access to the finest talent in vaudeville.

Photo courtesy of Jack Hiddlestone

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Exclusive Web Site Photos

L: Dominic Cossa, courtesy of concert program

R: Amri Galli-Campi, courtesy of Dr. D.E. Jones file

On October 12, 1987, Dominic Cossa opened the 20th season of the University of Scranton’s Concert and Theater Series. The setting obviously meant a great deal to Cossa, a University of Scranton alumnus. President Panuska presented him with the university’s Centennial medal, which had also been presented to Pope John Paul II.

His triumphant return provided local audiences a chance to hear their renowned native son at the height of his powers. Cossa, a lyric baritone capable of melding singer music and acting–a fact immediately obvious in the opening selection–Mozart’s “Rivolgete a Lui lo Squardo.” Even those who didn’t understand Italian were made aware of the light satirical tone of the piece because the singer let the listeners in on things without the slightest hint of pedantry.


Amri Galli-Campi, born Irma Gallenkamp, was another Scrantonian to rise to prominence in the world of opera. She was a coloratura soprano who made her opera debut at the Metropolitan on April 7, 1938 singing the role of Gilda in Rigoletto. She had a rare quality in the musical world, perfect pitch. She later sang with Laurence Tibbet, Richard Crooks, Lily Pons, Jascha Heifetz, Jose Iturbi and Grace Moore. In 1940, at the opening of the New York World’s Fair, she performed Air Castles, an opera she had written.

Her first Scranton appearance as a guest artist was on May 12, 1940 when she was a soloist at the 44th annual Junger Maennerchor concert. In appreciation of her return home, Mayor Fred J. Huester proclaimed May 13, 1940, Amri Galli-Campi Day. Her first number was Gilda’s song from Rigoletto, “Caro Nome.” She was gracious and charming with an unusually sweet voice with a bell-like quality with a warm, velvety texture and a wide range.



“From mining's glory days to That Championship Season, who would have known that Scranton was such a national hot-bed for performance and that its stages hosted so many giants? Thanks to Nancy McDonald, we all will! Packed with information, yet always an enjoyable and fascinating read."

-Alan Baker, The Choral Society of Northeast Pennsylvania

“Jack Benny and Mae West, vaudeville and big bands, stage plays and movie stars – to open this treasure of a book is to relive Scranton's entertainment scene from its heyday right up to modern times. With juicy details and magnificent photographs, Nancy McDonald captures a beloved aspect of the city's history.”

-Cheryl A. Kashuba, local historian & Scranton Times-Tribune columnist

“With incredible detail and occasional whimsy, Nancy McDonald brilliantly chronicles the range and high caliber of artists subjected to the unyielding scrutiny of the unique culture that was – and is – Scranton. Nancy demonstrates, with great pride, how Scranton is a footnote in the history of America’s performing arts.”

-Dr. Paulette Merchel, retired theater program director, Marywood University

"If You Can Play Scranton is a work that anyone who is interested in Scranton's entertainment history MUST read. Nancy McDonald has dedicated a lifetime to researching the topic and her work provides an excellent document of the amazing talent that has appeared here.”

-Mary Ann Moran Savakinus, director, Lackawanna Historical Society

“I found If You Can Play Scranton to be very informative and interesting. It's a great read for anyone with Pennsylvania roots."

-Karl Wegforth, president, Dunmore Historical Society

Monday, November 28, 2011

About the Book

If You Can Play Scranton is a theatrical history of America as seen through the famous performers who came to Scranton, Pennsylvania. It discusses performances by the best known actors and actresses of the tragic and comic stage, ethnic performers, vaudevillians, musical comedy, concert, orchestra and band performers from 1871-2010. At the turn of the 20th century, Scranton was one of the most famous try-out towns for legitimate stage productions. The sophisticated taste of its audience, created by extensive exposure to world renown talent, continues to this day.

298 pgs., 5.5" x 8.5"
ISBN 9780983741824


About the Author

Music has always been a part of Nancy McDonald’s life.

Her father, Paul McDonald, worked as an engineer for the Scranton Electric Company, later PPL. As a young man, he worked in theaters as an electrician under the chief stage electrician, Terence Carden. His uncle, Michael McDonald was a state senator and lawyer for Arthur Frothingham, who built Scranton's Frothingham Theater. As a young man, Paul McDonald saw many of the famous performers mentioned in If You Can Play Scranton. His stories prompted the research for this project.

From an early age, Nancy McDonald studied music and its history. Her great aunt taught piano and her cousin taught violin at the Scranton Conservatory of Music. Both were two of the original members of the Scranton Singers Guild.

She is a summa cum laude graduate of Marywood University. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Education. She majored in history and minored in drama. She was certified to teach history, drama and English. She received an M. A. in European History from Marywood University. She was inducted into Phi Alpha Theta, the history honor society while in graduate school.

She taught at West Scranton Senior High School until her retirement in 1999. In her early years, she taught regular and honors ninth grade students in Civics/Growth of Western Civilization. Since 1977, she taught junior and senior honors and advance placement classes in European and American history. She is a career-long member of the Scranton Federation of Teachers. She became a building representative at West Scranton in her third year of teaching. She served on the SFT Building Committee and was West Scranton's Publicity Director from 1985 through 1999.

She became a member of the SFT Executive committee, the Negotiating Committee and assistant editor of Today at SFT, the SFT newsletter. She was second vice-president from 1976 until her retirement. She represented the SFT on numerous Scranton School District committees including the Curriculum Council. She also represented the Pennsylvania Federation of Teachers for five years on the Pennsylvania Professional Standards and Practices Commission. It dealt with standards for high school and colleges throughout Pennsylvania for the Pennsylvania Department of Education. In 1983 she was one of ten finalists for the Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year.

After she completed her master's, she took graduate credits in voice at Marywood. She has been a cantor at her own church, St. Mary of Mount Carmel in Dunmore for fifteen years. When its choir disbanded, she became a cantor and a choir member at St. Peter's Cathedral during the tenure of Dr. Stephen Barton as director. When Barton left the Cathedral, she joined the choir at Immaculate Conception Church.

In 1978, she became a member of the Singers Guild and served on its Board of Directors. The Scranton Singers Guild merged with the Wilkes-Barre Oratorical Society and became the Choral Society of Northeastern Pennsylvania. Since the merger, she has been a member of this group and has performed in a number of concerts. She was chosen for the Northeastern Philharmonic Chorus formed by Hugh Wolfe when he was the director of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic. It was disbanded when Wolfe left. In recent years, the Northeastern Philharmonic has hired the Choral Society of Northeastern Pennsylvania when they have needed a chorus and she has performed in a number of concerts as a member of this group. She is a member of both the Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic and the Broadway Theater League.

She has been a member of the Lackawanna Historical Society since 1967. She is also a member of the newly formed Dunmore Historical Society. She belongs to the state Pennsylvania Association of School Retirees and is President of the Lackawanna Chapter of PASR. In addition to If You Can Play Scranton, she has also authored Today at SFT, the History of the Scranton Federation of Teachers. The Scranton Federation of Teachers was one of the original eight teacher unions formed in 1916. She traced its history from its formation to the end of her tenure in 2000.

She was a cast member Nancy Hasty's play, Under the Lackawanna Moon, presented under the auspices of the Lackawanna Historical Society. For the past few years she has been a member of the cast of the Dearly Departed Players. Under the direction of Julie Esty, they present living history through the costumes and speeches of characters buried at the Dunmore cemetery. This is done by a cemetery tour held the first two Sundays in October.

Locally, she is a member of the Pennsylvania Sierra Club, the Audubon Society, the Lackawanna River Corridor Association, Marywood Alumna Society, Irish Women's Society, and MAC Club of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish. She supports the Little Sisters of the Poor, St Joseph's Children's Home, the Friends of the Poor, the Scranton Salvation Army and the Griffin Pond Animal Shelter. Nationally, she belongs to a number of environmental groups: the National Sierra Club, Greater Yellowstone Society, Montana Environmental Society, Defenders of Wildlife, Wilderness Society, Alaska Wilderness League, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Last Chance for Animals, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Anti-Vivisection Society, National Humane Education Society, Humane Society of the United States, Environmental Defense Fund, World Wildlife Fund, Marine Mammal Center, Sea Turtle Rescue, Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife Federation, Greenpeace, the Ocean Conservancy, National Parks Conservation Association, Earth Justice, Interfaith Alliance, and Public Citizen. Nationally, she supports Food for the Poor and the Christian Appalachian Project.