Dayton Theatre Guild mourns loss of longtime member Fred Blumenthal

Actor/director/designer devoted over 60 years to community theater.

Fred Blumenthal, a member of the Dayton Theatre Hall of Fame who devoted over 60 years of service to the Dayton Theatre Guild, died Monday, Nov. 21. He was 86.

Blumenthal, a pillar of the Dayton arts community, loved the stage. He caught the acting bug in the eighth grade at Jefferson High School and went on to carve a theatrical path that included over 150 productions encompassing community theater and professional stages.

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

He particularly found a special theatrical home with the Dayton Theatre Guild as an actor, director, scenic designer, graphic designer, property maker, administrator and custodian. At age 18, while a student at Fairview High School, he appeared in the Guild’s 1953 production of “The Enchanted Cottage.” His acting credits included “Artist Descending a Staircase,” “The Sunshine Boys,” “The Lady’s Not for Burning,” “Room Service” and “The Good Doctor.”

Credit: DAYTON THEATRE GUILD ARCHIVES

Credit: DAYTON THEATRE GUILD ARCHIVES

He made his directorial debut at the Guild during the 1970-71 season with “The Beaux’ Stratagem.” His directorial credits included “I Never Sang for My Father,” “Death of a Salesman,” “A Man for All Seasons,” “Our Town,” “Waiting in the Wings,” “It’s Only a Play,” “God’s Man in Texas,” “Boy Gets Girl” and “Fuddy Meers” to name only a few.

“Fred was here for everything,” said Guild president Carol Finley. “He was omnipresent. He was there for all the decisions. He was always there to contribute.”

Credit: DAYTON THEATRE GUILD ARCHIVES

Credit: DAYTON THEATRE GUILD ARCHIVES

Actor/scenic designer Blake Senseman, who began performing with the Guild in the early 1980s, regards Blumenthal as a mentor. He is grateful for the valuable lessons gained, which stretched beyond the footlights.

“I think Fred is responsible more than any other of the original Guild members for pulling people in,” said Senseman. “He was a generous person and generous with people… From the countless productions he acted in, to the many plays he directed, and to those for which he designed and built sets, Fred managed to convey to us, through his actions, what it means not only to be talented but immensely dedicated.”

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

As a member of Actors Equity for a brief period, Blumenthal worked with the Human Race Theatre Company, La Comedia Dinner Theatre and Indianapolis’ Phoenix Theatre.

“We loved working with Fred, who did seven shows with us,” said Kevin Moore, artistic director emeritus of the Human Race Theatre Company. “He was always fun and incredibly supportive. He had a passion for theater. He was dedicated and committed to it. It was a phenomenal part of who he was.”

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Blumenthal’s Human Race credits included “Beau Jest,” “After-Play,” “Noises Off,” “West Side Story” and “A Christmas Carol.” He is remembered for displaying a high caliber, professional work ethic.

“He was a consummate professional – all the way,” said Moore. “For me, no matter where he was working, he approached everything with professional quality. I was also impressed with what he was able to do all the way down to the details of scenic design.”

“His vision was essential,” echoed Guild member Barbara Jorgensen. “Everything had to be just the way he wanted it to be, which was good. His devotion to his craft – whatever the craft was whether directing or set design – was admirable. He set the bar high.”

Credit: DAYTON THEATRE GUILD ARCHIVES

Credit: DAYTON THEATRE GUILD ARCHIVES

Jorgensen, who has appeared in such Guild shows as “Collected Stories,” “Lost in Yonkers” and “Morning’s at Seven,” and Saul Caplan, who recently appeared in the Guild’s production of “Broadway Bound,” fondly recall one of Blumenthal’s signature sets. For the Guild’s 2013 local premiere of Neil Simon’s comedy “45 Seconds From Broadway,” his final directorial stint, Blumenthal meticulously transformed the space into an eye-catching replica of New York’s now-defunct Café Edison, a legendary, eclectic haven for tourists and Broadway stars alike within the Theater District.

“Everything about the set looked very accurate, especially the booths,” said Jorgensen.

“Also, the diner counter with the stools,” added Caplan, who starred in the production as comedian Mickey Fox. “One of the things people always comment on in terms of the Guild is the quality of the sets, the attention to detail and what a space can become. And that’s because of people like Fred and particularly Fred’s vision, patience and understanding.”

Credit: DAYTON THEATRE GUILD ARCHIVES

Credit: DAYTON THEATRE GUILD ARCHIVES

Blumenthal, born in Cincinnati but raised in Dayton, is survived by nieces Amy Blumenthal and Nancy McManus and their children, nephew Hank Blumenthal, his “great love” Patty Bell, Bell’s daughters, Jennifer and Melissa, and their daughters. A Celebration of Life was held Nov. 28 at the Marker and Heller Funeral Home in Dayton. There will not be a Guild memorial service per Blumenthal’s wishes.

In August 2013 I received a phone call from Blumenthal asking if I would consider being one of the extras populating the Café Edison in the aforementioned “45 Seconds From Broadway.” His desire to incorporate a theater critic within the play, even in a non-speaking capacity, was a charming dose of realism I couldn’t ignore. It was a pleasure to have been a small part of the production’s authenticity and be among those who understand the magnitude of a Blumenthal experience.

Fred, thanks for the memories.

Credit: DAYTON THEATRE GUILD ARCHIVES

Credit: DAYTON THEATRE GUILD ARCHIVES

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