Laguna Legends

As we celebrate our 100th year, we look back at the many legends that have made the Playhouse the world class theatre it is today. Thank you to the many who preceded us and thank you for the love you have shown to Laguna Beach and our arts community, this theatre, theatre in general. 

n 1966, pioneer of the arts and philanthropist Nellie Gail Moulton was a major benefactor to the Laguna Playhouse. Her gift helped fund the building of the current Laguna Playhouse Moulton Theatre on Laguna Canyon Road. One of the first female artists to join the Laguna Beach art colony in the early 1900s, Nellie Gail Moulton herself was a celebrated Plein-air artist, and instrumental in the development and funding of other local groups, such as LAM, LCAD and Chapman University. The Moulton family is committed to following her path and remains active participants in the current operations of the Playhouse.

Today we recognize Betsy and David Paul, who were deeply involved in the Playhouse’s growth. They both first appeared on stage in 1937, David in Whistling in the Dark, Betsy in Three Taps at Twelve and their first production together was in 1938 in Hotel Universe. In addition to being on stage, Betsy served on the Board of Directors, was a very successful fundraiser for the Playhouse, and even helped with costumes. The Pauls remained active in the Playhouse into the 1990s.

Howard “Hap” Graham served as Managing Director and Producer twice, from 1959 - 1964, and 1971-1975. Before joining the Playhouse, Hap appeared on Broadway in “State of the Union” (1945) and in "Two’s Company" (1945) with is friend Bette Davis, who he brought to the Playhouse. Hap is also known as the Festival of the Arts/Pageant of the Masters Festival Director to first stage The Last Supper.

Beloved actor Tom Shelton has been on our Playhouse stage more than any other actor! He has an impressive 15 shows at the Playhouse on his resume, most recently Harvey from our 98th season, with his first production being Bedroom Farce in 1993. Tom says he couldn’t possibly pick a favorite because they’re all so special to him. We love you, Tom!

Under the leadership of Executive Director Richard Stein (1990-2007), Laguna Playhouse grew from a local community theatre to a world recognized professional resident theatre, producing more than 100 plays. This included two national touring productions, “Copenhagen” and Julie Harris in “The Belle of Amherst,” which brought Laguna Playhouse to 40 U.S. cities. During his tenure, Stein also put his directorial stamp on many shows, among them world, American and West Coast premieres. Thank you Rick, for turning Laguna Playhouse into the world-wide recognized theatre it is today.

Karen Wood served as Laguna Playhouse Executive Director from 2008 - 2016. Under her leadership, the Playhouse expanded its board of directors, created local partnerships, and brought in some first-class legendary stars. Karen is also credited with keeping the Playhouse open during the great recession of 2007, earning a Spirit of Laguna/Best Business Award from the Chamber of Commerce. Thank you Karen!

Paul Singarella joined the Board of Trustees in 2009 and was elected chair in 2017, after serving as vice-chair for two years and co-chair for two years. A champion of arts since high school, Paul has been critical in the growth of the Playhouse, including the search that resulted in a multi-Tony award winning Executive Director and the Groundbreaking for the Playhouse renovation project.

Ilona Martin, current Board Emeritus, joined the Board of Trustees in 2000 and has remained deeply involved in many Playhouse activities to this day. As part of our Youth Theatre post-play discussions, Ilona has shared her very personal story, of being smuggled to safety in a suitcase as an infant during WWII. Thank you, Ilona, not only for your constant support of the Playhouse, but for bringing to life your very real story of being one of the Hidden Children of World War II.

What can we say about the illustrious Lisa Hale, and the entire Hale Family? Lisa joined the Board of Trustees in 2009, and currently serves as our Vice-Chair. Lisa’s involvement with the Playhouse dates back to when she joined the Youth Theatre in 1988. Since then, she’s been a Season Sponsor for the past three seasons, funded a $150,000 fundraising match during the pandemic, co-chaired the Gala Committee multiple times, and even starred against type as the Wicked Witch in the LPYT’s production of Wizard of Oz. Lisa’s family has been all hands-on deck as well, with husband Jim also serving on the Board, and children Rachel and Connor assisting both backstage and in the house. Thank you, Lisa and thank you, entire Hale Family (including the twins!!)

Joining the Playhouse Board of Directors in 2013, Jared Mathis has reconnected the Playhouse to its past and currently serves as Treasurer. Over fifty-years ago Jared's great-grandmother Nellie Gail Moulton was a driving force behind the construction of the current Playhouse and Moulton Theater we all enjoy. Jared, pictured with his wife Kate and three daughters, brought the support of the Moulton Family back to the Playhouse as they recently pledged and delivered $1,000,000 to the Playhouse to support operations and make improvements to our building and stage.  Much of the Moulton Family gift has funded our ongoing exterior facelift and the current upgrades to our interior restrooms. Thank you Jared Mathis and the entire Moulton Family!

Today's #LagunaPlayhouseLegend is Grammy-nominated composer Mark Turnbull, whose relationship with the Playhouse dates back to 1982, with his original musical The Tales of Fannie Keenan, Better Known as Dora Hand. The production was later picked to represent the United States at the Olympic Theater Festival at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Since then, Mark has been a regular fixture at the Playhouse, appearing regularly on stage, as a musical director, and with our TheatreReach program. Thank you, Mark for your deep commitment to the Playhouse, and for your many important contributions over the years!

On Friday, October 22, 1920, Annie Gayne Peake and Isabel Frost held a meeting with a group of 17 local thespians with the purpose of organizing the Laguna Beach Community Dramatic Club. This meeting lead to the creation of Laguna Playhouse. Their first play was “The Torchbearers,” which they performed to a select audience in a private home.

Managing and Artistic Director from 1964-1966, and again as Artistic Director from 1976-1991, Doug Rowe produced, directed and acted in more than 100 shows at the Playhouse. A familiar face in film and television, Rowe appeared in such films as the Incident and Appointment with Fear, and on TV in "Star Trek: The Next Generation," "Murder She Wrote,” "ER and "Northern Exposure." During his tenure at the Playhouse, Rowe grew the subscription audience to more than 8000 season subscribers.

A long devotee to the community and the arts in Laguna Beach, Pat Kollenda served on the Board of the Laguna Playhouse from 1985-1991, and as Chair from 1989-1991. Pat is no stranger to the stage, having appeared in a number of Playhouse productions including Music Man, Barnum, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, 12 Angry Women and most recently Love, Lost and What I Wore. Today Pat remains committed to the Playhouse and continues to be involved with Playhouse activities.

The Founding Chairman of the Board of Directors for Visit Laguna Beach, Karyn Philippsen served on the Playhouse Board from 2008-2012, and was the 90th Anniversary Chair. Karyn was critical in developing the Laguna Beach Tourism Marketing District (formally the BID), which helps support Playhouse activities, as well as arts across Laguna Beach, through funding by the hospitality industry. Thank you Karyn, for your dedication to the Playhouse, the arts, and the hospitality industry in Laguna Beach.

What can we say about our wonderful Andy Barnicle! Andy served as artistic director of the Laguna Playhouse from 1991 through 2010, where he produced over 100 Playhouse shows and directed over 40 of them. But we didn't let Andy get too far! Since 2010, he's come back to direct another seven shows, and act in another two. He's also directing the reading of Suppressed Desires, which will celebrate the Playhouse's 100th birthday. Here's to many more shows with Andy!

With a record 16 live shows over a decade (and 3 virtual shows), today we recognize our friend, Hershey Felder. From the first time Hershey hit our stage in the 2009-2010 season, he's been a Playhouse favorite. Thank you Hershey for what you've brought to our stage, and also what you've brought into our homes during this time. We can't wait to get you back to Laguna!

Joe Hanauer joined the Playhouse Board in 2010 and served as Chair of the Board of Trustees from 2012 to 2018. During that time, Joe was not only crucial in assisting the organization achieve financial stability after the Great Recession, but also in the amazing renovation of the 52 year old building. Thank you, Joe!

Jim and Suzanne Mellor are lifelong proponents of the arts and humanities. Jim served as Chairman of the Board for the Playhouse for many years, and still remains on the Board to this day. Suzanne helped found The Playhouse Women, an invaluable social and support group for the Laguna Playhouse. Jim and Suzanne’s leadership and vision for the Playhouse are evident in a comment Jim made recently, "We got involved with the Playhouse at a time when regional theaters were in crisis. This theater is a jewel and we wanted to focus on that."

This year marks the 15-year anniversary of The Jessica Herron Memorial Scholarship Fund, established by the generosity of Dana Klein and Jay Herron in loving memory of their daughter. This designated gift to the theatre’s permanent Endowment provides scholarship assistance to talented young people seeking to expand their knowledge and skills by participating in our youth conservatory. Last year alone, the scholarship provided more than $10,000 for 13 students; and has since expanded to more than $13,000 for 14 students this year. Please help us continue to support the next generation of theatre and honoring Jessica's memory by clicking here.

Orville Marlett, is a retired Newport Beach Lawyer and has been a Laguna Playhouse supporter and subscriber since 1994. Our Laguna Playhouse hero turned 103 this past December and he is still going strong. He loves our matinees and always arrives with a smile on his face.

As a lifelong proponent of the arts Otis Healy has served on the Board of Directors and been a supporter and advocate of the Laguna Playhouse for over 40 years. The Playhouse was proud to celebrate him with honor at our 2019 Gala. Otis has long worked and shared ways to raise money with the management team of the Playhouse and was instrumental in transitioning it from an amateur status to a respected professional theater.

Today's #LagunaPlayhouseLegend is our wonderful Mayor of Laguna Beach, Bob Whalen, and the entire Whalen family. Mayor Whalen was instrumental in securing the Laguna Beach Matching Grant to help the Playhouse with some long-needed capital improvements. The Whalen family has also been long-time supporters of the Playhouse, with Bob and wife Kristen enjoying over a decade of being season subscribers. Their daughter Erika, a graduate from the Laguna Playhouse Youth Theatre, along with her husband Brett, are frequent artists on the Playhouse stage. Most recently they participated in the Playhouse's "Play at Home" Laguna offerings during the start of the Covid 19 Pandemic. Thank you, Bob, and thank you Whalen Family, for your ongoing support and dedication to the Laguna Playhouse.

Laguna Playhouse pays homage to the indigenous people and to the land on which the theatre is located. The Playhouse is located on the traditional territory of the Tongva. A hunter-gatherer society, the peaceful Tongva inhabited an area covering approximately 4,000 square miles and traded widely with neighboring tribes. in 1785, Tongva Chief Toypurina lead a rebellion to resist Spanish rule. We recognize her and the rest of the Tongva tribe as today’s Laguna Playhouse Legends.

Today we recognize the one, the only, Wally Ziegler. Wally started in 1990 when he was brought in as an usher and bartender.  Today, Wally serves the Playhouse as our Artist and Audience service manager. Over the years, Wally has been on stage six times, and has been directly involved as a company manager, prop master, casting director and so many other rolls in 334 productions to date. And according to Wally, “I’ve loved every minute of it!”  Well, Wally, we love you too!  (and we love your theatre pup, Tamzin!) Here’s hoping for 334 more.

William L. Pereira was the designer of the new playhouse building that Nellie Moulton's $100,000 gift made possible. William was an architect family friend who submitted a series of designs to the development committee. He was the master planner for the city of Irvine, California, San Francisco’s Transamerica Pyramid, and designer of the “Ziggurat” Chet Holifield Federal Building in Laguna Niguel. His work was honored as the featured September 1963 cover of Time Magazine.

A native Californian who spent her childhood in the Japanese internment camps, Miki Young went on to found The Young Engineers in 1963, a company specializing in the design and manufacturer of aircraft and aerospace hardware, which still thrives today in Lake Forest. A generous spirit to the very end, Ms Young turned her company over to her employees when she retired, and remembered Laguna Playhouse with a generous gift through her trust. Thank you Miki. You will be missed.

"Grand Duchess of Orange County Theater," Marthella Randall was a director, actor, costumer, set designer and a board member, serving on the Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors during the 60's when the Moulton Theatre was in the planning phase.

The Laguna Playhouse was Connie Morthland’s first love. Morthland edited the Playhouse newsletter, “Callboard,” for more than 40 years, reviewing every play and profiling visiting actors. She encouraged Nellie Gail Moulton to donate funds to build the theater next to the Festival of Arts. So today, we celebrate Connie!

Jody Upham Billings was a lifelong Lagunatic since the late 1920s until her passing in 2013. Passionate about great literature and arts, Jody devoted selfless time, energy and resources to community involvement all around town and, in particular The Playhouse. Jody was ever keen to remind us, "This life is not a Dress Rehearsal!" and wisely advised us, "NEVERTHELESS, the Show must go on!"

Our current Board of Trustees Chair, Glenn Gray, joined the Laguna Playhouse Board in 2012, first serving as treasurer and now a Chair. Together with his wife Kathryn, Glenn served as Chair of the Gala committee in 2018 and 2019, helping to raise over $1.5 Million for Laguna Playhouse. Thank you, Glenn!

Joining the Playhouse in 1999, Donna Inglima, ran the Laguna Playhouse Youth Theatre until her retirement in 2019. Donna directed over 40 plays in her 20 years, and under her direction, she expanded the Youth Theatre to include a series of productions for teenage actors called “Theatre for a New Generation” and saw the Playhouse’s TheaterReach program — which brings professional touring performances to schools —expanded to include as many as 50 shows a year. In recognition of her work, Donna received the Laguna Beach Arts Alliance Lifetime Achievement award at the 2017 Art Star Awards. Thank you, Donna! We love and miss you.

Our Laguna Playhouse hero: Heidi Miller. Heidi has a passion for the arts and theater and has been an active member of the Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors for 36 years. The Laguna Beach community is always enriched by Heidi’s involvement everywhere. Her love for her family, friends and community is evidenced by her dedication to helping others in need, including being a Bone Marrow Transplant Donor and a Live Kidney Donor!

Today we celebrate professional ballerina Lila Zali. She performed at the old Laguna Playhouse when it was on Forest Avenue. After opening a dance studio in Laguna in 1959, she soon founded a ballet company which developed into Orange County's leading classical troupe, Ballet Pacifica. Lila served as a consultant for the new Laguna Moulton Playhouse in 1969. Ballet Pacifica was in residence at the new Laguna Playhouse for the next 20 years. Playhouse audiences were also treated to Lila’s choreography for the Playhouse production of “Carousel” in 1985. Lila Zali’s influence in developing an audience for dance, not only for the Laguna Playhouse, but for Orange County cannot be overstated or forgotten

Today we honor our heroes Carolyn and Tom Bent. Carolyn was on staff at the Playhouse in the 1990s in the box office and then in the Development Department. She was President of Playhouse Parents for 2 years when they raised $10,000 each year for our Youth Theatre. The Laguna Playhouse Youth Theatre program is near and dear to the hearts of the Bents because they saw the benefits their daughter received from the program, both as an actor and by participating in stage crew. They donate to the Youth Theatre because they understand the importance of fostering imagination in young audiences who experience live theatre featuring young performers. The Bents sponsored a Youth Theatre performance of “Hannah’s Suitcase” and have left a generous Legacy gift as well for the Youth Theatre. We are forever grateful for their involvement with Laguna Playhouse!