Seasoned theater goers around Niagara County will probably remember a staple name in local entertainment, Melody Fair. In spite of its on-again, off-again, 30-year history, the outdoor theater offered big-name entertainment for over 30 years.
Melody Fair got its start in the 1950s, originally housed under a big-top tent next to the old Wurlitzer plant off Niagara Falls Boulevard in North Tonawanda. The tent was eventually replaced with a theater dome. For 25 years, Melody Fair was synonymous with producer, Lewis T. Fisher, and the sound of flaps blowing in the wind and a little pit orchestra striving to give a big-band sound to the overtures. The theater did well and offered some of the biggest names to ever light up marquees: Jerry Lewis, Danny Kaye, Liberace, Carol Channing, Tony Bennett, Pat Boone, Jack Benny, Perry Como and Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong.
Some speculate the theater suffered most from its poor timing, its 1950s genesis coincided with the advent of a serious competitor, television. The eventual demise of the theater was hastened by some disastrous “no-show” entertainers like Benny Goodman, singer-songwriter Paul Williams, Neil Sedaka, Bobby Darren, Connie Francis, Phyllis Diller, Sandler and Young and The Everly Brothers. To make matters worse, the theater made some huge public relations mistakes when it failed to offer refunds for some of the missing acts. Melody Fair went through a succession of owners who attempted to revive the summer format and was also known as the Majestic Theater and The New Melody Fair.
In spite of its ultimate closure in 1985, the theater can still be viewed as a success to some theater lovers. It presented live theater at a time when there wasn’t much of it around. As theater observer Ray Hill noted, “by keeping the footlights burning, Melody Fair proved the truth of the saying that it is better to light a candle then to curse the darkness.
Douglas Farley, Director
Ann Marie Linnabery
Erie Canal Discover Center
24 Church St.
Lockport NY 14094