About The Meadowbrook
ABOUT THE MEADOWBROOK
It’s impossible to go into detail about the long and varied history of Meadowbrook but a brief overview will give your some insight.
The Meadowbrook opened in 1923. The Meadowbrook hosted all of the famous ‘Big Bands’. It’s even purported to have featured, as one of the
band singers, Frank Sinatra. Frank Dailey’s Meadowbrook became a household name as a dance hall in 1936 for it’s radio broadcasts that
announced “And now from Frank Dailey’s Meadowbrook, on the Newark-Pompton Turnpike, in the heart of Cedar Grove, New Jersey comes
the music of . . . .” . When the big band era ended the Meadowbrook became a banquet hall, run after the death of Frank, by his brother Cliff. It
had become the property of the bank and Cliff would run it for them for the occasional event.
There seems to be some discussion as to who opened the first dinner theatre. Wikipedia states that the Barksdale Theatre in Virginia was the
first. I believe this to be incorrect, Barksdale had a separate facility for the theatre and dinner (buffet) service. The Meadowbrook was all in one
room with tables surrounding the ‘in-the-round’ stage. In my opinion the Meadowbrook was the first dinner theatre of its kind where the patrons
never left their seats and dinner and theatre was brought to them. After the theatrical performance the stage was removed so that the patrons
had the use of the dance floor to a live orchestra until closing, all in one room.
In 1959 Gary and Helga McHugh came up with the idea of the Dinner Theatre. Gary was a great salesman and was able to convince the bank
to allow him to rent the old hall and operate it as the world’s first dinner theatre. It opened as the Meadowbrook Dinner Theatre in the fall of
1959. The Meadowbrook was a full union operation; Actor’s Equity, union stage hands, union musicians and kitchen, bartender and wait staff.
Early into its operation the property was purchased from the bank by John Thumann. It would be best to explain here that the Thumann
corporation owned the liquor license and derived revenue from liquor sales which were not shared with the theatre operation which derived its
revenue from food service and show only ticket sales. On the other hand that was to be considered rent.
It would only be fair to give credit where credit is due. The concept was well accepted and business flourished. Gary was joined by Carl Sawyer
as co-producer; Richard Scanga joined as Production Stage Manager and hired me as his assistant. Soon I moved to Production Stage
Manager and Mr. Scanga moved to co-Producer. Sometime later Mr. Scanga became general manager of the Vogue Terrace Dinner Theatre in
Pittsburg, PA, and was replaced by John Wingate. As time went by I moved up to Associate Producer above title. John Wingate moved on to
manage the Wedgewood Dinner Theatre in Glen Cove, LI, NY, I now had single billing as Associate Producer, followed by co-Producer with
Gary McHugh. The Wedgewood and Vogue Terrace were both operated by Dinner Theatre, Inc., part of the Meadowbrook operation. Gary, as it
turned out, was not a great business man and began to spend more money that he was taking in. Not on himself, but in an attempt to expand
other dinner theatre operations. Finally unable to talk his way out of government owed taxes he was forced to shutter the operation.
Business was good and there was no reason the Meadowbrook should have closed. Marvin Sprague, Len Leonards and Eddie Lutzkow
contacted me and together with some of the former employees and some outside investors were able to reopen. We changed the name to
Meadowbrook Theatre/Restaurant to avoid any confusion with the old operation that owed lots of money to lots of people.
Meadowbrook reopened with the public not knowing that anything had changed. I became Producer and Marvin Sprague Associate Producer.
The 1973 recession, as well as a strike by the wait staff, forced the decision to close the operation before we met the same fate as our
predecessor. We shuttered the doors in the black. For some press about the closing click here.
Another producer attempted to reopen the old girl, but after two shows it was shuttered again only to reopen as a Disco. After some trouble with
the police and town hall the venue was shuttered for good. The Meadowbrook was sold to a developer who had nothing but trouble with the
town to do anything with the property. He finally sold it to Sts. Kiril and Metodij Macedynian Orthodox Church that now owns it. They did a
wonderful job of bringing it back to its original grandeur and it’s used for church functions for its parishioners. The old dance floor still feels the
touch of happy feet.
I hope I’ve not left out anything that’s important – if I have, I’m sure someone will let me know.