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Save The Palm Springs Plaza Theatre

Plaza Theatre front

Frasier Helps Save the Plaza Theatre

By Barbara Beckley

Who knew? Originally the NBC-TV hit Frasier was set in Denver – not Seattle. And Lisa Kudrow was cast as Roz – not Peri Gilpin.

These are just a few of the tidbits Frasier’s co-creator, writer, director and Palm Springs resident David Lee and stars David Hyde Pierce (Niles) and Peri Gilpin (Roz) divulged during the “Team Frasier Reunites to Save the Plaza Theatre” fundraiser, March 19, 2022 at the historic theater in the heart of Palm Springs.

Plaza Theatre Interior
When the Palm Springs Follies performed in the theatre.

The Backstory

The Palm Springs Plaza Theatre story begins in true Hollywood style. Built in 1936 by heiress Julia Carnell, who loved Palm Springs but thought there wasn’t enough to do. She solved the problem by buying some land and building La Plaza movie and shopping complex.  In 1936, it hosted the world premiere of Camille, starring Greta Garbo, and continued with film screenings, live radio shows from Amos and Andy to Frank Sinatra and other entertainment. In 1991, the theatre became a Class 1 Historic Site.

plaza theatre
Credit: Palm Springs Historical Society

Some $12 million is needed to preserve and keep the theatre alive with top notch entertainment so that it will work on its own.

David Lee made a $5,000,000 donation in October, 2021. In March of 2022, he hosted another fundraiser that included cast members of Frasier.

david-lee-palm-springs
Credit: David Lee

About David Lee

David was the Producer of Frasier, Wings, Cheers, and The Jefferson. For some of these shows he also acted as writer and Director. Lee has been nominated eighteen times for Emmy Awards and won Nine times. He also won the Directors Guild Award, the Golden Globe Award, Producers Guild Award, GLAAD Media Award, British Comedy Award, three Television Critics Association Awards, and the Peabody Award.

Palm Springs Power  

A nearly sell-out crowd enjoyed a delightful, gossip-tinged afternoon as only this celebrity-centric playground can deliver.

Team Frasier was testimony to Palm Springs’ celebrity magnetism, made possible only because multi-Emmy winner Lee (he also created Cheers) has loved Palm Springs all his life. First as a visitor with his parents, then with friends and now as a resident for more than 20 years. And testament to the city’s important past and present, with guests including California Lt. Governor Eleni Kounalakis, A-list designer and Palm Springs resident/preservationist Trina Turk, Destination PSP owner Jeffrey Bernstein and partner Oscar Chamudes; The Shag Store owners Jay Nailor and MiShell Modern; Palm Springs Mayor Lisa Middleton, the Frasier Casting Director (whom we learned didn’t have to work very hard since most of the cast were “pre-approved) and several Frasier writers.

Lee is working hard to raise the $12 million needed to restore the Mediterranean-style theater to its former glory.

plaza theatre Fundraiser

Telling Tales for a Good Cause

Up on stage, it was all smiles, laughs and fond memories as Lee and his co-creator Peter Casey, and “Niles” and “Roz” took us inside the making of the pilot episode. Divulging their off-the-wall thinking that resulted in one of the most beloved, acclaimed and long-running – 264 episodes from 1993 to 2004 – TV sitcoms ever. And proved the rumors are true. That the Frasier cast and writers were and are like “family.”

Frasier is yet to be imitated,” Lee admitted. With good reason, we learned. As the pilot rolled on the screen, Lee said “stop,” (a lot) and explained the whys of each scene and character.

To begin with, “there was no story outline.”

Usually it’s good to know the ending as you write,” Lee chuckled. “We didn’t. We just wrote it!” Which got them into some sticky situations, he admitted. Like how to resolve the angry exchange between Frasier and his dad, Martin, when his dad first moved in. Contrary to sitcom “rules,” they purposefully wrote this scene without any humor to break the tension. But resolve they did. As we watched in the following scene with Frasier on air, and Roz telling him “your next call is a father who’s having a relationship problem with his son.” Of course, the caller was Martin…

Casting Roz?

Lee explained they made Frasier unsure of himself on his radio show. Kudrow and Gilpin were both pre-approved as Roz. “You tell the story,” Gilpin laughed, leaning over and hugging Casey. “Kudrow rehearsed for three days. But she wasn’t the alpha female we wanted Roz to be,” Casey revealed. Lee admitted he could have had someone else tell Kudrow. But, “I called her myself.”

“Why?”

As Lee explained, the word “why” is the premise that made Frasier so unique and beloved. Guiding Lee and his writers to challenge old ideas and do things differently. Most sitcoms have a “stupid” character. Why? So Frasier didn’t. Why have Frasier’s dad move in with him? Co-creator Casey’s father had a stroke while they were writing Frasier. Why is Martin a cop? Casey’s dad was a cop.

Why the white lettering on a black background between scenes? “No apartment in Seattle has that view,” Lee revealed. “And viewers know Frasier’s apartment is in a building,” he laughed. So why use an establishing shot of a building? Why not do something different?”

Why Seattle?

Originally Frasier was set in Denver. “We wanted to be as far from Boston as possible. But as we were writing, the city of Denver passed anti-gay laws. No way were we going to promote Denver!” Lee explained.

Why a dog?

“Do we want our ratings to go up?” Lee reasoned. “Then add a dog.” There were two Eddies. First was Moose. And after – Lee became audibly emotional for a second – was Enzo, “with a small dye job.” Lee laughed recalling “When Frasier made the cover of Entertainment Weekly, it was just Eddie!” Why the name “Eddie? There is a reason, but too complicated for now, Lee teased.

Why the theme song? Lee asked song-writer friends to pen Tossed Salads and Scrambled Eggs and Kelsey Grammer to sing it, after the Carol King song they initially wanted proved too expensive.

 Curtain Up!  

“It’s great to see people in the seats,” J.R. Roberts, chairman of the Save the Plaza Theatre restoration committee board of directors, and former Palm Springs councilman, beamed in closing remarks. “It’s not often a working theatre needs restoration, but the Plaza does. We’d planned the after reception for onstage. However, we don’t trust the stage to hold this many people.”

JR Robers

No worries. With restaurants a plenty in downtown Palm Springs, Team Frasier guests adjourned to Oscar’s Palm Springs, around the corner, enjoying bubbly and hors d’ oeuvres in Oscar’s Spanish-style courtyard.

With such a great turnout for Team Frasier and enthusiastic boosters and donors, look for the historic Plaza Theatre to again take center stage as one of Palm Springs premier performing arts and events venues.

www.SaveThePlazaTheatrePS.com or call 1-760-218-6330.

Watch the Video with Lily Tomlin

Plaza Theatre front

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