Encore! The Renaissance of Wisconsin Opera Houses is a remarkable tribute to Wisconsin's theater heritage. The author, Brian Leahy Doyle chronicles the histories in the late 1800s and early 1900s of ten Wisconsin opera houses and theaters; some freestanding structures built by local benefactors, industrialists, and capitalists and others located within a city hall building and financed by local tax dollars with the support of government officials who believed in the value of the arts for their community. Some of the biggest names in theater and vaudeville graced these Wisconsin stages: Marion Anderson, the Barrymores, Sarah Bernhardt, Enrico Caruso, George M. Cohan, Gracie Fields, Mario Lanza, Jenny Lind, Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontanne, the Marx Brothers, Sir Laurence Olivier, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Arturo Toscanini. But these theaters, especially those in smaller, rural towns, also served as “a public space for town meetings, lectures, political speeches and rallies, proms, high school graduations, church bazaars, and even basketball games.
What makes these stories so compelling is that all but one of the featured theaters has been restored to its original splendor. Just as the beginnings of these theaters were often the result of the efforts of local citizens, Doyle discovers that their restoration is due to the commitment of dedicated and passionate people. Mark Fay’s photographs capture the essence of these structures, from the austerely handsome to the magnificently ornate opera houses. From the Wisconsin Historical Society Press. Hardcover, 272 pages, 8 in. x 10 in., 187 b/w and color photos and illus.