Shelly Gross, Creator of Summer Stock "Music Fairs," Dies at 88

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22 Jun 2009

Sheldon Gross, a regional and Broadway producer who created a string of summer stock musical theatres across the country, died June 19, in West Palm Beach, FL, after a long illness. He was 88.

Mr. Gross, known to all as Shelly, joined with partners Lee Guber and Frank Ford, in 1955 to open the Valley Forge Music Fair, in Devon, PA. At its beginning, it operated under a huge circus tent and presented musicals during the summer. He followed up this success with other "fairs," including the Shady Grove Music Fair in Washington, DC, the Painters Mill Music Fair in Maryland, and the Westbury Music Fair on Long Island, which opened in 1956.

Mr. Gross and his partners ran the theatres and produced the shows in them. The theatres, typically of the in-the-round style, became destinations for stage and concert performers of the first rank, though the level of attraction decreased as the decades went on and the world of summer stock theatre declined. By the 1990s, the theatres had fallen out of fashion. The Painters Mills Music Fair was torn down in 1991, the Valley Forge was demolished in 1997. The Westbury, now owned by Live Nation, goes by the far less whimsical name of The Capital One Bank Theatre at Westbury.

Mr. Gross and his partners also produced a number of plays and musicals on Broadway — such as Lorelei, Sherry! Catch Me If You Can, a revival of The King and I and Bring Back Birdie — though they were more commonly represented on Broadway by limited concert runs by the likes of Charles Aznavour, Barry Manilow, Shirley MacLaine, Patti LaBelle, Peter, Paul & Mary and Victor Borge. His last show on Broadway was a 1993 revival of Camelot staring Robert Goulet. Both the show and the star were longtime staples of the Music Fair circuit.

Sheldon (Shelly) Gross was born on May 20, 1921 in Philadelphia, PA, the son of Samuel Gross, M.D., a general practitioner, and Anna Rosenblum Gross, a teacher. He attended the University of Pennsylvania, and briefly attending Harvard Law School, before he enlisted in the Navy during World War II.



In addition to his wife of 63 years, Joan, he is survived by his three sons, Byron of Los Angeles, Rick of Estero, FL, and Dan of Wellesley, MA.

A memorial service is planned for late July in West Palm Beach, Florida. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in his honor to Palm Beach Dramaworks, 322 Banyan Blvd., West Palm Beach, FL 33401.