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With theater season in jeopardy, Perloff hopes donors deliver


Can a flood of new bucks save Bucks County Center for the Performing Arts’ sixth season at Delaware Valley University? Center founder and artistic director Howard Perloff is counting on it.

Lately, the longtime producer is trying to find the fun in fundraising, meeting prospective donors and demonstrating how another season could brighten the entire Bucks arts community, with entreaties etched at the center’s online site as well.

The push follows the premature end to last season. “Gypsy” and “The American Songbook” had to be scrapped after the money ran out.

“We didn’t get the grant we needed, and couldn’t make payroll for the two shows,” says Perloff.

Still, nothing in his history suggests that Perloff, one of the region’s most sophisticated soiree-style orchestra leaders, won’t find a way to make the sixth season happen.

No stranger to social protocol, Perloff had no problem deciding what to get the bride and groom as a gift for “Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding.”

Sellout crowds.

And so unlike Bialystock and Bloom, the theatrical odd couple of cons of “The Producers” whose idea of sellouts centered on mortgaging moral mindsets rather than filling theater seats, Perloff is the real deal — a producer who...produces. And the interactive “Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding” was just one of the perfect matches he actively perpetrated on stage.

The longtime Carversville resident has the credits to prove it.

A sax/piano/dance student at Juilliard generated jewels even before his 1965 graduation, producing the school’s “Once Upon a Mattress,” “The Wild Birds” and a Leonard Bernstein classic, in which he also starred as a sailor on leave “On the Town.”

In the nearly 60 years since successfully giving it the ol’ college try, Perloff has permeated the Broadway and regional scene, bringing light to the darkened stage.

These days, the longtime producer — whose core of credits includes the Broadway production of the Tony Award-winning “Torch Song Trilogy” as well as theatrical engagements locally at the Kimmel Center — is hoping to perform some of the magic for Doylestown that he’s made in venues throughout the country.

“Theater has always been it for me,” says the vibrant, entertaining 81-year-old. (Full disclosure: Perloff produced one of my plays, “Saddam,” a black comedy, in 1991 at his theater in Baltimore.)

For years, the “it” producer of interactive theater — he also got it right with the rites of passage off-Broadway show “Bernie’s Bar Mitzvah” — the stage manager of Michael Bennett’s first Broadway musical, “A Joyful Noise” (1966), has always managed to make music his muse.

“I remember walking on the stage for the first time as stage manager,” and the joyful noise of what he was doing echoes through his memory even today.

His past is a present he draws on now, recalling the praise from Bennett, who would go on to earn a chorus of hosannas himself for his Pulitzer Prize production of “A Chorus Line,” and especially the oomph Perloff’s parents — Lou and Mynne — put into their push to encourage Howard to pursue his theatrical ambitions.

“My mother loved theater,” he recalls and describes his late folks as “very liberal” in the way they endorsed his going for the gold — after all, his father was a famous Sansom Street jeweler — to test his theatrical mettle.

It paid off: “I’ve always made a living doing what I’m doing,” states Perloff. “You know, I’ve never been hooked by theater — because I’ve never been unhooked.”

Hooking up with DelVal — “We’re just a tenant there” — has allowed Perloff to bring classic musicals (“A Chorus Line,” “My Fair Lady,” “South Pacific”) to the Bucks ‘burbs.

But will it continue?

“Look, theater has its ups and downs,” relates Perloff, with a shrug in his voice.

Hopes for a sixth season have been buoyed by the arrival of some checks, supporting this bright entrepreneur’s efforts.

“You have to look on the bright side,” he says.

Meanwhile, he feels he’s in top form to take on the challenge. Feeling shipshape? Enough so to slip into that sailor’s outfit from Juilliard he wore some 60 years ago in “On the Town”? On behalf of Doylestown? For sure. “I just lost 30 pounds,” he says proudly. “I could still fit in it.”

Michael Elkin is a playwright, theater critic and novelist who lives in Abington. He writes columns about theater and the arts.

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