Sunday, November 11, 2018

Something's happening at the Woodstown Opera House

The Woodstown Opera House pictured here in 1901. The opera house has
been closed since May 1964, most recently housing local law firms, but
a new team is assembled and, by the looks of it, could have the theater
operational by 2019 under the name 'Blue Moon Theatre.'
(photo by E.W. Humphreys)

WOODSTOWN --- Can't tell you how excited I am about this.

Most theatre people in or around Woodstown have driven by the old Woodstown Opera House on West Avenue, to the left of the old National Bank, and dreamed of opening it back up as a theater. I know I did.

It closed and reopened intermittently throughout the 1930s and closed for good after a brief revival by the Curtain Call Club in the 1960s. In recent decades the interior has been updated into offices and its current occupants are a law firm. After the interior remodeling, hope for a reopening was long abandoned and the only remnant of the old opera house was the green and white marquee. The white even started to rust in recent years.

But the rust might be buffed away in 2019 as Cheryl and Joe Stark seek to reopen the theater doors to new audiences. And there's quite a bit of chatter in area theatre groups about what's happening at Woodstown's Opera House.

The Woodstown Opera House in the early 2010s. The white
curtain pictured here on the main window is now gone and
passerbys can glimpse into the new performance space.
I drove up to the theater Saturday night for their open house. It had been postponed, but Joe was there -- it appeared he was doing some renovations to the interior. The theater held a tea party earlier in the day for small children. He was gracious enough to exchange numbers and give me a little background of their vision.

I'll hold off on details until I interview Cheryl, the head of the new Blue Moon Theatre.

There's an advertisement in the front window for auditions for their Holiday Cabaret, and I'm sure they'll be participating in Woodstown By Candlelight. The cabaret is Saturday, Dec. 1 at 7 p.m. Their most recent showing was at the local Fall Festival in late September. On Halloween, they hosted a haunted house. 

Joe told me the law firm still exists on the top floor, but the ground floor is morphing back into an intimate theater -- and that's wonderfully exciting news. I've always wanted to see Woodstown perform Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" at the Opera House

According to one of Woodstown's foremost history books O The Great Days (in the distance enchanted), a collection of photographs by local turn-of-the-20th-century entrepreneur Edward W. Humphreys, compiled by Natalie Ware Johnson, courtesy the Salem County Cultural & Heritage Commission, the Woodstown Opera House opened on Christmas Eve, 1885. It hosted professional and amateur plays, minstrel shows, lecture forums, concerts, local and professional vaudeville, high school commencement, film, educational entertainment, and high school commencements. 

The Woodstown Opera House closed in 1918 for short period due to an outbreak of flu in Woodstown, then again in 1939 due to a fire. It was re-opened to usable condition, during the 1960s, but shuttered completely on May 9, 1964. 

The infamous plaque backstage at the Woodstown Opera
House warning performers to keep performances apropos.
It's confirmed there was a plaque backstage that read "To Performers, Your audience is composed largely of women and children.  Kindly omit all coarse or suggestive talk, songs, jokes, etc. If in doubt, cut it out. - E. W. Humphreys, Owner." 

Somewhere it's recorded the ceiling of the Opera House was a celestial dark blue and gold starry night scene. I don't readily have the source for this, and I can't remember where I read it, but I'll keep looking.

In one photo from Great Days the play "Under Two Flags" was performed by the Park Comedy Company in October 1903. The play is about an English aristocrat who runs away to join a French paramilitary group not unlike the French Foreign Legion.

The Woodstown Opera House also hosted the Chautauqua Series, an adult educational series rooted in morality and motivation, and was often in competition and at odds with vaudeville.

The last performance at the opera house (this was just before it closed in 1964) was "The Lute Song." I'm interested to see if this was an original production, organic to the local Curtain Call Club, or the 1946 Broadway musical.

Updates on this story will develop in the coming weeks. Let's hope this sparks a little renaissance in sleepy Woodstown. I'm sure the little green and white marquee will glow again soon. 

If anyone has historic information about the Woodstown Opera House (or photos) to share, shoot me an email at or give me a call (856) 275-4240 ... I want to know everything.

I purchased a copy of O The Great Days by Edward W. Humphreys at the Woodstown Public Library in 2005. It would come as no surprise if, 13 years later, there are still copies available. Their website shows reference copies on file. It deserves a reprint. Maybe we'll sell them opening night.


[Correction: A previous edition of this article used the incorrect first name for Mr. Stark. I regret the error.]

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