By Michaela Greer
Louis W. Parker was a problem solver who truly understood the adage that necessity is indeed the mother of invention. The renowned inventor, who created the Intercarrier Sound System, had grown weary of driving dozens of miles to see performances presented by neighboring playhouses and decided that the city of Fort Lauderdale needed to have its own theater.
As a result, he commissioned the construction of the Parker Playhouse, an Art Deco-inspired, 1,200-seat theater, complete with elaborately decorated rotundas with identical wings on either side, and featuring artwork personally selected by his wife, Milla. The building was completed in 1966 and a year later, on February 6, 1967, the curtains rose for the first time for a showing of Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple,” starring Dennis O’Keefe and E.G. Marshall.
In subsequent years, the theater has received minor renovations, including the removal of 32 of its spacious, continental-style seats to allow for wheelchair accessibility and amplified sound. Still, representatives from the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, who now oversee Parker Playhouse operations, are proud to say that not much else has changed.
Shelly Bradshaw, Parker Playhouse general manager and vice president of operations for the Broward Center, recalls hearing of the countless memories that the theater holds. “On opening night, Parker’s 16-year-old son, Raymond, met and sat next to Tennessee Williams,” Bradshaw says. “Years later, he brought a young lady on a first date to see ‘Romance/Romance’ and eventually married her—and they sat in the same seats that are there today.”
Since its inception 50 years ago, Parker Playhouse has continued to serve as a cultural hub for Broadway stagings, such as Elizabeth Taylor’s famed 1981 debut in “The Little Foxes,” a rare show of its kind to premiere in the state of Florida. In fact, playbills preserved since the theater’s opening boast of the many star-studded performances and best-loved plays that have graced the stage over its half-century-long operation. The sensational performances continue well into 2017 with an impressive line-up of celebrated performers, such as singer Lucinda Williams, actor and singer Matthew Morrison, and comedian Andrea Martin, proving that the Parker Playhouse is the quintessential venue for audiences that enjoy viewing exceptional performances in locations just as rich in history.
Originally appeared in the Winter 2016 Issue.