The stage at W.D. Packard Music Hall hosted several notable characters over the last few months.
In September Dr. Elliot Engel, a PMH fixture, entertained loyal fans and newcomers alike as the opener for this year’s Trumbull Town Hall Lecture Series. Dr. Engel, a professor, scholar, and literary performer, graciously stepped in when the planned speaker, actor Jamie Farr (or Corporal Klinger to M*A*S*H fans) had a scheduling conflict. Recounting the origins of the American fairytale, The Wizard of Oz, Dr. Engel explained, in his own special way, just how this fantastical tale came to exist. Mixing true history with a bit of believable legend, he led those in attendance on a special journey of L. Frank Baum’s life and the creation of this classic story, adding the bit of flair and humor that his fans have come to expect, and which will keep newcomers keeping an eye out for his next visit.
October stirred up quite a crowd as visitors were treated to the Taste of Home Cooking Show. With a practically sold-out attendance of 1300 tickets, audience members watched as six delectable dishes were whipped up just for them, with a suspended video camera projecting the step-by-step action on a big screen behind the capable instructor. Sponsored locally by the Tribune Chronicle, the event offered menu items ranging from a simple soup to gooey dessert and the ingredients featured in the various recipes were included in goodie bags given to each spectator. Dozens of themed door prizes donated by area businesses were given away, adding to the excitement, and local vendors answered questions about products, passed out samples, and offered merchandise specials should anyone be adventurous enough to put their newly-learned kitchen skills to good use.
November saw an Emmy and Oscar winner from the small and silver screens grace the small stage. As the next speaker in the four-part Town Hall Lecture Series, actress/comedienne/musician Cloris Leachman entertained, amused and bemused guests with her stories of working alongside celebrities, coming into her own on Broadway, and even of riding the streetcar in the small Iowa town where she grew up. The spry 84-year-old discussed her determination at a young age not to become one of those “gray people” (the dreary 9-5ers surrounding her on that streetcar), shared her wisdom on growing old and preparing for the looming end (“Cremation sounds like you’re going to wind up as a non-dairy coffee additive.”) and confessed her distaste of dying: “I hate death, I hate the thought of dying. Whoever thought up that rotten idea…?” In true Cloris style, the lighter moments reigned as she took time to tickle the ivories, sang a few bars of “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy” and recited ad lib “As You Like It.” She also shamelessly plugged her recent endeavor, “Raising Hope,” a comedy on Fox (after Glee!) in which she plays the not-quite-all-there great-grandmother Maw Maw of the infant title character.
The highlight of the morning presentation was the opportunity after her speech to buy her autobiography, co-written by her former husband George Englund, along with personalized autograph and photo op. (For those who may have missed the fall speakers, the Town Hall Series will resume in March with an appearance by Tom Gjelten, a national security correspondent. Damaris Peters Pike, a local Women of Note impersonator, will wrap up the season in April as Dolores Hope, the wife of the legendary Bob Hope.)
And now in December, though the weather is growing cold, the stage very much remains hot ringing-in the holiday season with the Big Band sounds of Packard backing up the soaring vocals of England-born, Ohio-transplant singer Helen Welch. This past Friday, the Hall held a free concert Jingle Bell Swing performance inviting the audience to get into the spirit of the season. Among the usual Christmas favorites, Welch led into intermission with a medley from the musical  “Chicago”, starting with “All That Jazz” and blending it with the equally jazzy “Razzle Dazzle ‘em.” It is safe to say that whatever their favorite part of the show, the spectators very much enjoyed the razzle and the dazzle of the evening.
Though some of the events require ticket purchases (The Town Hall Lectures are $5 with a student ID) Packard Music Hall offers many family-friendly experiences for free. The next free W.D. Packard Concert Band performance is scheduled for January 17th at 3pm. Check out for more details and a current listing of all upcoming events.