Leslie B. Cutler, Mainstay Director for Kenley Players, Dies at 93

Obituaries   Leslie B. Cutler, Mainstay Director for Kenley Players, Dies at 93
 
Leslie B. Cutler, who directed of hundreds of productions over a 50-year period at the Kenley Players in Ohio and other stock venues, died of congestive heart failure at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan on May 18. He was 93.

Mr. Cutler began working in 1947 for Kenley Players, which was, for decades, a renowned midwestern summer stock outfit run by the tireless producer John Kenley. He started work at Kenley’s Pennsylvania operation, first as a stage manager, and then as an actor and director.

When Kenley expanded and moved into Ohio in 1958, Cutler went along. By that time he was directing and acting in up to ten shows a season, primarily musicals. Kenley productions were typically anchored by stars, both from the Broadway stage and the silver screen's golden age. Among the many big names Mr. Cutler directed for Kenley were Ann Miller, Robert Goulet, Diana Barrymore, Cloris Leachman, Giorgio Tozzi, Mia Farrow, Richard Chamberlain, Jeannette MacDonald, Jane Powell, Howard Keel, Gene Kelly, Arthur Godfrey and Betty White.

Mr. Cutler also directed for many other theatres, including the Coconut Grove and Parker Playhouse in Florida, the Theater Under the Stars in Atlanta, the Mineola Playhouse on Long Island and the Westport Country Playhouse in Connecticut. He staged several national tours through the years. His last show was 2001’s Sheba, starring Donna McKechnie, at Lucille Lortel’s White Barn Theatre in Westport, CT.

Of a 1982 Cutler production of West Side Story at Jones Beach Theater, New York Times critic Alvin Klein wrote that it "is a winner; no excuses, no concessions, no kidding. Anyone who thinks a musical - in this case, the Leonard Bernstein-Stephen Sondheim-Arthur Laurents milestone musical - can't be done in such a monster space with soul intact and integrity uncompromised is implored to see this one."

Leslie Belmar Cutler was born on Aug. 31, 1919 in Belmar, NJ. (His middle name was derived from his place of birth.) Though trained as a legal clerk in a family law firm, he was attracted by the theatre and entered the profession as an actor at the Claire Tree Majors children’s theatre in the early 1940s. In some of his Kenley ventures, he did double duty, both directing and acting. He is survived by two nieces. A memorial service in Manhattan is planned for later this year.

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