Through the years, Dr. Laurence Baker has received his share of awards.
“Recently, I was honored by the Psychological Association,” he says, “but I told my wife, Joy: ‘This one makes me happier.’”
“This one” is the 2010 Cab Calloway Lifetime Achievement Award honoring work in the performing arts in Westchester. Baker will be among 14 honorees at Tuesday’s gala dinner at Westchester Broadway Theatre in Elmsford.
Others recipients: musical director Kathy Beaver; actor-director-producer Quentin Beaver; teacher Doug Cronk; technical whizzes Joan Hansen and Phyllis Padow-Sederbaum; Music Hall saviors Helen and Berthold Ringeisen; musical director Chloe Sasson and her late husband, Phil, a musician; actor Jeff Schlotman; producer Noreen (Noni) Tocantins Kelly; choreographer Nina Tocantins; and opera singer Lili Windsor.
For the better part of a decade — from 1974 until its demise in 1981 — The Theatre Place in Pleasantville did show after show.
“My heart was in community theater and this was my attempt to marry community theater and a business,” he says proudly.
The Marble Avenue restaurant, across the street from the cemetery — it’s now home to Ciro’s — started at about the same time as An Evening Dinner Theater, which is now Westchester Broadway Theater, where Tuesday’s awards ceremony will be held.
Baker formed Different Drum Productions to begin presenting shows at the restaurant that was then called The Brothers Inn. It then became Sandwich Theater at The Brothers Inn. In a few years, Different Drum took over the restaurant side, and it became The Theatre Place.
“It was a real theater hangout,” Joy Baker says.
Those were busy times.
“We were running one show, rehearsing the next show and casting the show after that, all at the same time,” Larry Baker says with a gleam in his eye. “We were absolutely breathless.”
Some memories come quicker than others.
“I remember Cab Calloway sitting in a deuce table right next to the stage and Pat Shaw singing right to him and him responding and singing back to her,” ?Baker says.
(Shaw, who produced shows at The Theatre Place, was a Cab Calloway honoree last year.)
The Theatre Place didn’t survive long after a suspicious fire that was never solved. Its final show was “Chicago,” in November 1981.
“It was the best time of my life,” he says.
Larry Baker’s love was the technical side of theater. For years, he ran lights and stage-managed shows for Pleasantville Music Theater, now called PMT Productions. During his tenure, the group went from producing one show a year to three shows.
He was president of the New York State Community Theater Association, a group that would train community theater organizers across the state, helping them cast their shows.
Dick Nagle, a past Calloway honoree who acted and directed at The Theatre Place, says the venue was a treasure.
“It was quick, down and dirty, with short rehearsal periods and a lot of attention to detail on the part of the producers,” he says. “It was a real treat to work there. Losing it was a huge loss for the actors and for the community.”
No one was injured in the fire, which happened in the run of “Oklahoma!”
Dr. Jeff Schlotman, a White Plains dentist and another 2010 Calloway honoree, played Curly in that production.
“It was everybody’s training ground,” Schlotman says. “This is where the neophytes of the theater all came to hone their craft.
“Prior to that, if you did a community theater show you did two weekends. At The Theater Place, you got the show up in three weeks and ran Thursday through Sunday, with two shows on Sunday, for several weeks.”
The audiences, Schlotman says, were theater-lovers who knew all the songs.
“When I played Harold Hill and I’d sing, ‘Oh, you got trouble,’ they’d all know to echo ‘Oh, we got trouble,’” he says with a laugh. “You practically didn’t need an on-stage chorus.”
Presenting Schlotman with his award Tuesday night will be actress Christine Pedi, an Eastchester native and star of “Forbidden Broadway” who got her start in community theater shows opposite Schlotman, who sometimes uses the stage name Jeff Scott.
Pedi, who hosts “The Broadway Breakfast” on Sirius/XM Radio, says she Schlotman was a pro’s pro.
Their first show together was PMT’s “Mack & Mabel,” with Schlotman as Mack Sennett and Pedi as Mabel Normand.
“I remember reading with Jeff at the audition and thinking ‘Oh, wow! This is going to be great, if it works out, because he’s so clearly professional and so many cuts above what I had expected.’”
Schlotman and Pedi played Nick and Fanny in “Funny Girl” with the Harrison Players, Juan and Eva in “Evita” with Chappaqua Drama Group (with John Treacy Egan as Che), Higgins and Eliza in “My Fair Lady” with the Eastchester Town Hall Players, Harold and Marian at Mount Vernon Music Theater, Fagin and Nancy in “Oliver!” at Tarrytown Music Hall.
“We never worked at the same place twice,” Pedi says.
Schlotman — who is still an in-demand actor across Westchester — estimates he’s been in nearly 200 productions. And the list still grows.
“I’ve been lucky enough to play just about every dream role in theater,” he says.
He is coming off a four-month stretch in which he did three shows: “Into the Woods” at Yorktown Stage, “Ah, Wilderness!” with the Armonk Players, and “Peter Pan” at Westchester Broadway.
By the end of his run in “Peter Pan,” Schlotman admits to feeling his age a bit.
“I was crawling out of that theater,” he says. “It’s not as easy as it used to be. I did Harold Hill eight shows a week at the Evening Dinner Theater for 13 weeks and was still seeing patients at 8 a.m. the next day.”
A highlight — one that makes him beam as he recalls it — was playing Daddy Warbucks in a Yorktown Stage production of “Annie,” opposite his real-life daughter, Emily, who was all of 7 at the time, in the title role.
“When I got to do that waltz with her on stage, she’s looking up at me and my eyes are tearing up and she’s scolding me, ‘Dad! Keep it together!’”
Schlotman’s long-ago co-star, Christine Pedi, has nothing but praise for him.
“Working with Jeff was always effortless,” she says. “In community theater, I hear there can be tensions. I never experienced it with a leading man, perhaps because it was always Jeff who was my leading man.”
Pedi recalls a milestone that came during their work on “My Fair Lady.”
“Our relationship had evolved to a new level of intimacy,” she says. “He was now my dentist.”
Photo by Peter D. Kramer/The Journal News: Two of the recipients of the 2010 Cab Calloway Lifetime Achievement Awards — Jeff Schlotman, left, and Dr. Laurence Baker, center — join past recipient Dick Nagle to reminisce about The Theatre Place, a Pleasantville dinner theater that Baker and his wife, Joy, ran in the 1970’s. The Calloway Awards, named for the former Elmsford resident, will be handed out Oct. 5 at Westchester Broadway Theatre in Elmsford.
2010 Cab Calloway Lifetime Achievement Awards
When: Oct. 5. 6 p.m. dinner, 7:30 p.m. ceremony.
Where: Westchester Broadway Theatre, 1 Broadway Plaza, Elmsford.
Tickets: $50 in main auditorium; $100 for luxury boxes. Includes dinner and the show.
Call: 914-592-2268, ext. 805.
Honorees: Laurence S. Baker; Kathy Beaver; Quentin Beaver; Doug Cronk; Joan Hansen and Phyllis Padow-Sederbaum; Helen Ringeisen and Berthold Ringeisen; Chloe Sasson; Phil Sasson; Jeff Schlotman; Noreen (Noni) Tocantins Kelly; Nina Tocantins; Lili Windsor.