A jpg of a gingerbread theater arrived in my email a few days ago, what was conceived as a fantasy pastiche, the Russell Theatre in Maysville, Kentucky. It’s a Spanish “revival” theater, “atmospheric,” which is to say it once offered moving clouds and twinkling stars on its dome — and a lighted rainbow to open and close each show. The vision of Colonel J. Barbour Russell (a prominent citizen of the tiny town of Maysville), the Russell’s facade resembles certain buildings in Cuban-influenced Key West, a romantic contrast to the everyday lives of its patrons.
I have not yet walked through the doors of the Russell, a theater in the process of being saved. My friend, Betsy, a local Maysville artist whose studio is directly across the street from the theater, sent me the picture of the Russell in gingergread, created, apparently, by a group of high school students. The edible Russell will be on display through the holidays in the lobby of Maysville’s Cox building, and will, hopefully, inspire even more residents to chip in to the restoration. So far, the citizen’s committee has: stabilized the roof, restored the marquee and ticket booth, finished asbestos removal, added security doors, completed an architectural study, placed the theater on the National Register of Historic Places, launched a really charming website with “moving” pictures under a tiny ornate proscenium, and so on.
Rosemary Clooney (1928-2002), whose hometown Maysville was, is smiling from a cloud somewhere inside the Russell’s dome. A supporter of early plans to save the Russell, she grew up going to the movies there. Her debut movie, The Stars Are Singing (1953), premiered in Maysville, with a parade in her honor, and the singer kept her connections to Maysville, over a career that spanned six decades.
As a Cincinnatian, I always thought she belonged to us, but I was wrong! Cincinnati was just the “big city” to which she moved when it was time to launch a singing career on WLW Radio. Cincinnati — which saw fit to tear down the RKO Albee in 1977 — could have taken a lesson from Maysville, it seems. Hooray to the Russell Theatre Corporation! More gingerbread theaters, I say! Bring back that illuminated rainbow!