The Chagrin Valley Little Theatre is a landmark in downtown Chagrin Falls. Submitted photo

Edelman has ‘scene’ it all as CVLT enters 87th season

By Bob Abelman

The Village of Chagrin Falls isn’t much on hyperbole.

Unlike other historic townships that attempt to capitalize on their charm by commercializing and calling attention to it, Chagrin Falls simply allows its early 19th-century appeal to speak for itself.

That is, except when it comes to the Chagrin Valley Little Theatre, which is one of the oldest, continuous community theaters in the nation and the source of much local pride.

A sign on the street that houses the unassuming red brick CVLT just off the main street square boasts the presence of a “theater district.” This hangs just below the sign that reads, “Not a through street.”

“The theater is an integral part of the thriving arts and culture scene of Chagrin Falls and our standing in the community serves as a foothold for newer arts organizations to thrive,” said Chris White, president of the CVLT board of directors.

CVLT emerged from humble beginnings in 1930, when the sleepy little town of Chagrin Falls had little in the way of culture. Alfred Hill, owner of a short-lived newspaper in the Valley, ran an article suggesting that interested residents meet and form a local group of players. They did, performing a series of one-act plays staged in the Federated Church gym several blocks from the theater’s current location. So successful the first season was that plans were laid for a second.

The Players opened its second season on the upper floor of Old Town Hall, which was built in 1848, and was its home until a fire in 1943 forced the Players to find makeshift accommodations in schools and other local buildings.

In fall 1948, following two fundraising drives, construction began on the present Little Theatre building on River Street. Architect Frank Draz, who also designed the Cleveland Play House and Karamu Theater, drew the final plans for the theater.

The new 262-seat facility opened in November 1949 with the world premiere of “How’s Your Hooper,” by Cleveland Heights playwright Everett Rhodes Castle. Going to the theater became the social thing to do in the Valley and was the first time a young man named Don Edelman stepped foot in CVLT.

In the late-1930s, Edelman grew up acting with Cleveland Play House’s Curtain Pullers, alongside Joel Grey, who lived one block away on East 152 Street.

“My Uncle played in the Palace Theatre pit band alongside Joel’s father, Mickey Katz. My mother and father and all the Katz’s played cards together and any time I auditioned against Joel, he always got the role,” Edelman recalled. “Talented kid.”

Although he performed in many local theaters, Edelman did not act at CVLT until a friend of his at Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple in Beachwood, where Edelman was a congregant and worked with the youth theater, told him that CVLT was desperately looking for men to appear in its production of “Inherit the Wind.”

That was in 1965 and Edelman has directed or acted in nearly 100 CVLT productions since. It was also at this time that television drew people away from live theater and CVLT experienced serious financial difficulties. So Edelman joined the board of directors and within 1½ years, CVLT was back on its feet. He went on to become president of the board.

Last year, Edelman received a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his contributions to theater.

Edelman said this too is hyperbole for neither his lifetime nor his achievements have come to a close. He recently played the title role in the CVLT production of “Visiting Mr. Green,” where he portrayed an old, grumpy devout Jew (“quite an artistic stretch” he quipped). He is also about to perform in the theater’s one-act play festival and is co-directing an original play, “Love, Honor and Other Complications,” with his wife, Cindee.

The 88-year old Edelman, who remains on the board, and the newly renovated building that houses the 87-year old CVLT have a history together. And they are not done yet. CV

Lead image: The Chagrin Valley Little Theatre is a landmark in downtown Chagrin Falls. Submitted photo