Martin City Melodrama finds its forever home near its first home
By Kathy Feist
It’s been 33 years since the Martin City Melodrama and Vaudevilla Co. first performed at the old Martin City Methodist Church at the corner of 135th & Holmes (now The Martin Event Space). After several moves throughout the metropolitan area, the theater has found its “forever home” back in the south Kansas City area, minutes from where it started.
The current production of “A Christmas Bette” kicks off the celebration of the theater’s new home, located at 702 Blue Ridge Blvd. in Grandview.
“Have you heard of A Christmas Carol? Well this is a Christmas Bette!” says founder, artistic director and performer Jeanne Beechwood, who plays a “mean” impersonation of the late Hollywood star Bette Davis in the production.
In this spoof of “A Christmas Carol” a serious group of thespians is trying to do a “legit” version of the Christmas story, but the aging film star Bette keeps “butting in” in order to make her big stage comeback.
The mainstage professional company includes Sean Taylor, Garrett Myers, Philip Blue Owl Hooser, Michaela Menke and of course Beechwood.
The vaudeville portion of the show includes a water glass symphony that may include an audience member, silly Christmas music and the 12 Dogs of Christmas, which includes 12 senior rescue dogs.
The performance is presented in a cabaret setting complete with snack bar.
Beechwood started Martin City Melodrama and Vaudeville Co. in Martin City in 1985.
Readers may remember those days. The theater was packed to capacity every performance. RCs provided a fried chicken buffet as an option for customers. For the poorer soul, popcorn and soda was an option. Sawdust carpeted the floor, in keeping with the old-fashioned vaudeville experience. When the curtains parted, the act became a gut-splitting experience in hilarity.
“R.C. VanNoy was a doll,” recalls Beechwood. “He said ‘Do it for one year.’–I was 26 at the time.– ‘Your parents don’t have to co-sign and we’ll see what happens.’”
“One year has turned into 33!” she laughs.
“RC was great. He was a very fair man,” she recalls.
In 2001, Beechwood was offered space at the Metcalf South Shopping Center in Overland Park. But after five years, she was warned that the building was going to be demolished. She stayed for 14 years, most on a month to month contract before moving into a new space at the Great Plains Mall in Olathe. After eight months, the mall shut down and she was again without a venue.
Within a year, the Martin City Melodrama and Vaudeville Co. moved uptown, both figuratively and literally, to Crown Center Shopping Center’s former movie theater space. With a sharp rise in rent and artistic differences with her lease mate Musical Theater Heritage, Beechwood left the operation within a year. That’s when Beechwood decided to no longer be at the mercy of others. She began shopping for a building to own.
Thanks to a beneficiary, the not-for-profit theater now owns the current building. It will be home to not only the Martin City Melodrama but also to Martin City Jr. summer camp and Top Bananas!, a youth acting program for children with special needs, both founded by Beechwood.
To purchase tickets or to obtain more information regarding the theater and all its offerings, go to www.martincitymelodrama.org. Or call 913-642-7576.