Lake Worth’s little playhouse that could
The Lake Worth Playhouse in downtown Lake Worth Beach.
Photo by Lake Worth Playhouse.
Few Palm Beach County performance venues have as storied a history as Lake Worth Playhouse in downtown Lake Worth Beach. The nonprofit is presenting its 70th season since it was incorporated by a group of Lake Worth residents in December 1953.
Its history goes back even further. The structure opened as the Oakley Theatre nearly 100 years ago on Nov. 3, 1924, making it the oldest building on the register of the Art Deco Society of Palm Beach County.
A 1928 hurricane rendered the theater useless before transplanted Illinois siblings Lucien and Clarence Oakley rebuilt it the following year, only to have to vacate when the Great Depression hit. After a series of new owners, it went dark.
From 1953 to 1975, Lake Worth Playhouse performances took place in the old Lake Worth City Hall. The playhouse bought and renovated the Oakley Theatre for shows beginning in 1976, and the lights have figuratively been on ever since, even during the COVID-19-plagued 2020-2021 season.
“We pivoted our programming to meet the challenges of producing live theater during a pandemic,” says Daniel Eilola, Lake Worth Playhouse’s artistic director.
“We initially had large musicals and plays scheduled that would require us to have large casts and crews to execute. We completely changed that programming in order to reduce the risks,” he says. The playhouse staged three musicals that had only two performers and limited crew members: “Always … Patsy Cline,” “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill” and “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.”
Such precautions extended to the adjacent, intimate Stonzek Theater, which presents independent and foreign films year-round. Open since 1995, the black-box theater also showcases plays.
Eilola says the Stonzek plays featured smaller casts, with all performers masked or shielded.
The playhouse’s current season continues on the main stage with “Beehive: The ’60s Musical” from Nov. 11 to 20 and the limited-engagement comedy “Calendar Girls” from Dec. 2 to 4. On the Stonzek stage, the comedy “Small Mouth Sounds” runs from Nov. 18 to 27.
“We have open auditions for all roles,” Eilola says, “and, due to our reputation, we pull actors from as far south as Miami and as far north as Port St. Lucie.”
Adult tap dancing lessons are also available at the playhouse, which presents musical theater but no live music performances other than in rental situations.
Most Lake Worth Playhouse performances start at 8 p.m., with 2 p.m. matinees. Tickets for main stage shows cost $38, although opening nights are $46, and special rates are available, including for groups and dinner-and-show packages. Black-box performances cost $25, with film tickets priced at $9.
The Lake Worth Playhouse is at 713 Lake Ave. For further information, call 561-586-6410 or 561-586-6169, ext. 214, or visit lakeworthplayhouse.org.