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North by Northwest -- Footlighting a Storied Suburban Showplace

November 20, 2008 By:
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For 80 years, Glenside has glimmered with what has become a regional treasure.

Who knew that Glenside would be on the side of the angels in the entertainment empyrean?

Roy Snyder had a clue, but then, it's his business to make sure blue-sky suggestions become much more than Cloud 9 notions.

Snyder and that stentorian voice -- Keswick Theatre mainstays for so long that the Glenside landmark and its senior talent buyer seem ideally suited for one another, both breaths of fresh air in a business where new and the revived is oxygen No. 1.

Not bad for the Keswick, celebrating its 80th birthday this season, and Snyder, far younger but still old enough to remember his association with the Asparagus Valley Cultural Society, which came of age in the '70s at the Walnut Street Theatre and which soon evolved into the duo of Penn and Teller.

Tell me some stories, I ask of Snyder, who mans an office with some of that boyish enthusiasm that has made him a fave of fans and the celebs he brings to the suburban showcase.

"Well, there was the time Joan came in," he says, his form of stream of consciousness about the comedian named Rivers, "and she wanted to make a different kind of entrance."

So, in a wobbly warble of an offstage voice, she started a faux pre-concert rant of needing a drink. Within seconds, just before the raucous raconteur entered stage right, she left an impression few will forget: "She had a liquor bottle rolled out on stage to precede her."

Drink to me only with thine ... oys? "She's a real professional, just like Jackie," he says of last Saturday night's performer, Mason, coincidentally two Jewish laugh legends who often make their stage presents of humor during their Glenside gigs.

North by Northwest: Within a bagel toss of Center City's arts scene -- well, make that a hefty bagel toss -- the Keswick has had its moment in the spotlight fade in, fade out over the years. There was talk at one time that the fabled, fiercely ornate, onetime movie house would be demolished, and paradise would be replaced with a parking lot.

Never happened; new owners, old neighbors owned up to the need to keep the Keswick a keeper. And, as it gets ready to blow out 80 candles, its history is sparked with a new rush of revived interest.

Live -- From AEG!

Earlier this year, the Montco moviehouse-cum-theater was purchased by AEG Live, a major national player whose presence empowers a livelier booking scene, says Snyder.

And with a variety of shows -- comedy, Broadway musicals, variety shows -- the theater has had little problem packing its 1,300-seat auditorium. That is an auditory sigh of relief you hear from locals, who love the place, and frequent the nabe's restaurants and shops in this suburban glen, able to capture the new millennium's zeitgeist -- having entertainment close to home, commuting to and communing with the arts without the big schlep (with all due respect to Sarah Silverman).

Respect is a key code word, avows Snyder. It wasn't that long ago, he says -- well, 20 years, but when you're 80, as the theater is, we're talking whippersnapper time here -- "the Keswick wasn't being taken that seriously."

It certainly is now, as reflected by the national headliners who head south from New York and east from Hollywood to the hills of Montco.

"We don't feel as solitary as we once did when we were alone to make our way," and not part of a national entertainment complex such as AEG Live.

And, perhaps more importantly, "artists take us more seriously, too."

But, seriously, can a local showplace survive on its area patrons? Well, reasons Snyder, the Glenside site is far from being on the other side of the world. "Primarily, our pull is a 50-mile radius," he says, "reaching to Reading, Allentown and other areas."

A World of Difference

Other side of the world? Down under, Snyder fosters a real fondness for the region, but he also knows that Foster Beer may be on the minds and mouths of some when they go out for an after-theater drink in the area. "We've had people come over from Australia, England -- we had one member of the Tokyo Bobby Vinton Fan Club come to see him here, and then go right back home."

Sayonara, solitary standing. In a way, it's a tribute to Snyder that he gets timeless talent on stage that, time after time, attracts such fans -- and that includes booking tribute bands, such as the Fab Faux (Beatles) and a Genesis group for which audiences couldn't get their fill of its Phil Collins-wannabe.

It also wants to be a focal point for the community, says Snyder of the theater, which has worked with area synagogues in making the trek to the theater from Old York Road; its highway of heaven is a road worth traveling.

As for him, this Jewish gent gently makes the pre-curtain speeches/admonitions to audiences about eating during the show and making noise -- both no-nos meant to keep mouths shut -- and about keeping exits uncluttered.

But that's all offstage, in that infamous voice that sounds part-Xanadu, part-Hollywood extra.

But unlike the upfront performers, Snyder is heard, but not seen. "And, you know," he says, relishing the offstage office he commands, and adding in that boyish/bold manner, "I like it like that.

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