Spotlight : Spokane theater loses ‘grande dame’

The Spokesman-Review photo

Dorothy Darby Smith is pictured in the 1950s.

March 25, 2007 - Updated: June 30, 6:50 p.m.

The phrase “grande dame of theater” may sound exaggerated, but in the case of Dorothy Darby Smith, it’s perfectly correct.

Smith, who died on March 16 at age 97, truly was Spokane’s leading lady of theater for half a century. Her contributions to the local stage were immense, beginning with her role in helping to found the Spokane Civic Theatre in 1947.

She played the lead in the Civic’s first full-fledged play, “State of the Union,” at the Post Theater, normally a movie theater, on Oct. 1, 1947.

“Let me tell you, it was an experience and a half,” Smith said in a 1996 interview in The Spokesman-Review. “We’d have to go in at midnight (after Sunday night’s last movie) and put up our set, and get all of the furniture and stuff onstage. Then the cast came in at 7 a.m. and we’d have rehearsal, and then we’d play that night.”

Smith remembered waiting for her first entrance and being “so excited” that she could barely stand still.

She continued to direct and perform at the Civic for the next five decades, making her last appearance in the lead role of “Driving Miss Daisy” in 1992. Even then, she did not retire altogether. She directed a Reading Stage version of “A Man for All Seasons” in 2000, at age 90.

Smith also performed and directed at Interplayers, St. John’s Cathedral and practically every other place in Spokane with a stage and an audience. She traveled the world to learn more about theater.

Yet she may be best remembered as an outstanding and life-changing theater teacher, first teaching privately, then at Holy Names Academy, and then as the head of the speech and drama department at Gonzaga University.

She ruled the Gonzaga stage with a firm, yet benign, hand.

Her death is truly a loss to Spokane culture.

Dennis Miller on radio

A new radio show hosted by comedian-commentator-provocateur Dennis Miller will debut Monday morning on KXLY-AM (920).

Miller, familiar from his HBO series and his stint on “Monday Night Football,” will take calls and discuss the issues of the day from his cerebral, smart-aleck perspective.

“The Dennis Miller Show” will run from 8 to 11 a.m. weekday mornings. To make room, the KXLY morning news show will be shortened by an hour and Clark Howard’s show will run from 11:15 a.m. to noon. Paul Harvey’s show will run from 11 to 11:15 a.m.

‘Carousel’ in concert

Musical theater lovers should take note of the lavish concert version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel,” scheduled for Friday and Saturday, 7:30 p.m. each night, at North Idaho College’s Schuler Auditorium in Coeur d’Alene.

This is the Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre’s 40th anniversary celebration and fundraiser, and it will feature a lineup of many of the best performers from the theater’s history, including Krista Kubicek, Kelly Quinnett, Callie McKinney Cabe, Mark Cotter, Todd Jasmin, Jennifer Niederloh, Jadd Davis, Robby French, Jessi Little and Molly Allen Ritter. Billy Bigelow will be played by New York actor David Jon Wilson.

This is a fitting choice for an anniversary event – “Carousel” was the theater’s very first show. Call (208) 769-7780 or (800) 423-2849 for tickets, $40 reserved.

Two more Civic titles

The final two titles in the Spokane Civic Theatre’s 2007-08 season have been announced: “The Foursome,” about four old classmates reuniting on the golf course and “Crimes of the Heart,” Beth Henley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama.

Both will be in the Firth Chew Studio Theatre.

Acoustic music update

Here are a couple of acoustic music shows to keep in mind:

Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas – The acclaimed Celtic fiddler and his cellist partner. Fraser attracted a huge crowd when he was here in 2005. Thursday, 7 p.m., Bing Crosby Theater, 901 W. Sprague. Tickets available through TicketsWest outlets (325-SEAT, 800-325-SEAT, www.ticketswest.com).

John Reischman and the Jaybirds – The well-known regional bluegrass band. Saturday, 7 p.m., Trent Elementary School auditorium, 3303 N. Pines Road. Call (509) 891-8558 for tickets.

A circle of ‘Cirques’

All right, it’s time to clarify Spokane’s Cirque situation: Two competing Cirques are coming to town in May, and only one of them is the famous Cirque du Soleil.

The Cirque du Soleil, out of Montreal and Las Vegas, is presenting “Delirium,” a live music concert and overall spectacle, on May 16 and 17 at the Spokane Veteran’s Arena.

Meanwhile, “Cirque Dreams – Jungle Fantasy” is from the unrelated Cirque Productions, out of Florida. It is booked into the Northern Quest Casino for 16 performances from May 2 through 15.

This is the same family-friendly acrobatic show that played the INB Performing Arts Center last October.

Tickets for both are on sale through TicketsWest.


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