Video Vault: 1993 announcement of Front Row's closing

Highland Heights theater moved to Playhouse Sq.

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ohio - Twenty years ago, an announcement of the closing of the Front Row saddened theatergoers but it was a sign of a thriving downtown Cleveland.

The Front Row held about 3,000 guests and had a stage in the center which revolved 360 degrees during performances, giving all a great view of the performers.

The Front Row was moving its operation into downtown Cleveland's PlayhouseSquare.

WEWS reporter Liz Claman ventured to the Highland Heights facility on Wilson Mills Road to look at and talk to those involved with the Front Row.

Jeannie Emser was with the Front Row when it opened in 1974 with Sammy Davis Jr. Emser recalls Roy Orbison's last concert was at the Front Row. Orbison performed here on Dec 4, 1988 and died two days later at age 52.

She tells Claman one of Liberace's capes was so heavy (140 pounds), it broke a bar in his backstage dressing room.

Emser made the move downtown and today is marketing manager at PlayhouseSquare.

In an email, she recalled how the success of the Front Row, with the pop, urban, jazz and comedy genres, had PlayhouseSquare CEO/Pres. Art Falco lobbying to move the successful Front Row operation to PlayhouseSquare to bring their annual attendance over a million. 

According to Emser, the million visitor goal was attained after the move occurred.

"The late Larry Dolin, owner & manager, had the foresight to realize downtown was soon going to be "where it was happening" with the new baseball park, Rock Hall & Science Center about to be built when we moved here (downtown) in July, 1993," she said.

"That, coupled with the fact that we would have had to make major repairs to the building ..., parking lots, technology, etc. made the move a little sweeter…although we all miss being "in the round," Emser said.

But back to 1993. Closing Claman's story is an interview with Mary Luca. Luca also worked at the Front Row since it opened. One of her sons was married there and another had his graduation at the theater.

After telling of dealing with rocker Alice Cooper's snakes, Luca says what many of us still feel, "It's gonna be missed."

The building was demolished in 1995 and is now home to a retail center.

Click here to see another Video Vault Front Row story and here to see another when Phil Donahue brought his talk show to the theater for a week of shows.

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