UPPER MERION —"The King of Prussia Players celebrate a new stage of life and a life on stage."
No one could capture the heart of the matter better than the King of Prussia Players themselves.
With those words the community theater group's press release announced the sad news that after 60 years of entertaining local theater patrons, the King of Prussia Players would no longer be producing shows.
The good news was that the King of Prussia Players would continue as an educational entity and that its rich history will be celebrated, along with the longtime contribution of President Emeritus Larry Anderson at a gala event at Temple Brith Achim on Nov. 17, from 5 to 9 p.m.
The company without a permanent playhouse to call its own has set up shop in a variety of venues since being founded in 1956.
Local stages that have been brought to life with its diverse menu of comedies, dramas and musicals have included Upper Merion
High School and Middle School, the Shannondell Performing Arts Theater and the Center Theater in Norristown.
"In early 2018 we had what turns out to be our final show, "Avenue Q," at the Centre Theater in Norristown," noted Tom Blair, a longtime member of the company and board member. "We had no home. Whenever we did a show we had to rent a theater or be invited somewhere. A business consultant told us that the bottom line was that we'll be losing money. So we decided to stop. The King of Prussia Players as you know it, is over after 60 years. That's why we're having this gala. And part of the gala is (a tribute) to Larry Anderson, who basically gave the last half life of his life to the King of Prussia Players. He directed one or two shows every year."
Although the group will not be producing shows for the foreseeable future, "They have a purpose for us and there will be a King of Prussia Players continuing. It is possibly we might be doing shows again, in the form of dinner theaters or small events, but we won't be doing shows as we've been doing," Blair said.
All three of King of Prussia Players' final three shows at the Centre Theater — "Chicago," "Sweet Charity" and "Avenue Q" — were artistically successful, Blair allowed, "and one of the them was a financial success. But we pretty much had to fill the theater for every performance in order to be a financial success and that's a difficult thing to do. For our typical audience, a trip to the Centre Theater was not the same thing as a trip to Shannondell or the Upper Merion Middle School, which was always easy parking. It was just more difficult in Norristown."
It took more than a year for the board to reach its decision, Blair noted.
"Going forward, we're going to be an organization that provides yearly scholarships to young people who decide to pursue artistic education, either performing arts or some sort of arts. All of this is yet to be determined, but we have a pool of money from our years at Shannondell and even the one show at Centre Theater, which made money, and we'll be using the money from that. And we're probably going to be doing different forms of fundraising so that we will still be alive, it's just not going to be the same organization. So, the board of directors is not disbanding. We've been working on this for the past year and this is what we came up with. Who knows, down the road we may find a home and start up again," Blair said.
The upcoming gala will give the King of Prussia Players the opportunity to salute its past while honoring Anderson at the same time.
"We hired a caterer and we're going to have a first-class dinner and entertainment. A lot of people who've performed for us over the years will be doing songs and dances. We're going to be remembering some of our stars, and the the biggest of which is Larry himself."
Anderson has been a part of the group as an actor, director, musician, board member, president, and set designer since 1972, when he joined the group as a percussionist.
“I went over to the Henderson Road School to audition for the chorus of the first musical, ‘How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,’ and started beating time on the stage," Anderson recalled. "The pianist/musical director Joe Becek asked me if I was a drummer and if so, could I bring my drums over the next Sunday to audition for him. I showed up with my drums the next week and was on the drum stool for many years thereafter.”
Anderson met his wife of 43 years, on the set of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” in 1976.
“I was the percussionist and she was one of the courtesans. I was supposed to hit a cymbal crash as she hit the bottom split on the entrance of her solo. Show week she was in costume. I was more than slightly taken by her very different look, missed the cymbal and about fell off the stool. Joe turned around and said, ‘You’re caught,’ and that was that. We were married seven months later.”
Eventually, the couple's children — Brett, Collette, and Kurt, along with grandson Tiernan — would join them on the Players stage, the release explained.
“As far as Carol and I are concerned, theater—and especially community theater—is a family affair. It’s a wholesome, fun way for a family to work and grow together, as actors, dancers, musicians, or technicians. I get a kick out of seeing the kids of young people we worked with who met on or behind our stage beginning performing careers with their parents.”
The press release pointed out how fitting it is that the gala that salutes Anderson’s decades of service to the King of Prussia Players and community theater also serves as a fund-raiser to fuel the next generations of on-stage players and behind-the-scenes boosters.
“Theater, all parts of it, have given Carol and me a great deal of pleasure throughout the years. One has no idea how much joy we now get from seeing the next generation, of our family and others, ready and eager to continue and build from where we left off. With this next iteration of the King of Prussia Players, we hope to continue the joy of theater for years to come.”
Tickets to the gala are $25 for adults. Children under 12 are free. For more information and to reserve tickets or make a donation to arts education, visit