This week, the Pasadena Playhouse announced that the anonymous donors whose one million dollar gift, in May 2010, was vital to keeping the theater from closing are the Playhouse's own current board members (and all-around incredible people) Mike Stoller and Corky Hale Stoller.
"When we read in the paper that they were going to close the theater after ninety some years, my wife and I said, ‘This is a terrible thing, we can't let that happen.'" Mike Stoller said. "So we were moved to make a donation that we hoped would keep the theater running."
The Stollers felt the importance of saving not only the Playhouse's staff and productions but also its landmark building and outreach programs. "My wife was particularly moved that they have a program for bringing in children to learn about theater and to experience theater, not only from the immediate community in Pasadena but also throughout the Los Angeles area," Mr. Stoller said.
The performing arts have been important to both of the Stollers all their lives. "I'm from New York and as a young person I went to Broadway and saw productions including musicals and straight plays," Stoller related. Then, as a freshman in college, Mike became one half of the songwriting team Leiber and Stoller. Throughout a partnership that lasted more than 60 years, the duo created some of our most recognizable tunes, like Elvis' "Hound Dog" and "Jailhouse Rock," The Drifters' "There Goes My Baby," and many more.
Corky Hale Stoller is a muli-talented musician who began taking piano lessons at the age of three in her small Midwestern town. Her first taste of showbiz came when a hotel bandleader by the name of Horace Heidt featured a seven-year-old Corky in his show, while she was vacationing in Florida with her family. She has played the harp and piano with the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Barbra Streisand, and Bjork, and also recorded her own albums on which she provides both the vocals and musical accompaniment.
The Stollers' involvement with theater has only increased throughout their careers. Corky has produced a number of shows including her star-studded show Corky Hale and Friends: From Tin Pan Alley to Beverly Hills at the Beverly Hills Civic Center, Lullaby Of Broadway at the Tiffany Theatre in West Hollywood, and a revival of her husband's Smokey Joe's Café at El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood.
In addition to Smokey Joe's Café, which was a 1995 Broadway musical revue based on the work of Leiber and Stoller, Mike Stoller wrote music with Artie Butler for the 2011 Broadway production of The People in the Picture, the story of grandmother determined to pass on her stories to the next generation, starring Donna Murphy.
Mike and Corky are particularly interested in giving to programs and donations that they feel strongly about. In April, the couple will be traveling to Montgomery, Alabama to be honored for their work with the Southern Poverty Law Center, who will be naming a theater for them.
Of their donation to Pasadena Playhouse, Mike said, "The decision was really very personal for both of us. I'd like to see them to continue to do the great kind of work that their doing. I think it's really happening there."