A Broadway Baby is Back
Elaine Parsons Herro, former owner of Broadway Baby Dinner Theatre, returns to the Skylight stage in 'Pippin'
By Stephanie Harte
Photo Credit: (Clockwise from left) David Corlew (Ensemble), Lucas Pastrana (Pippin) and Elaine Parsons Herro (Berthe) in rehearsal for 'Pippin.' Photo by Christal Wagner.
The moment Elaine Parsons Herro took her final curtain call for Skylight Music Theatre’s 2011 run of The Music Man, she thought her career as a performer had just come to an end.
At the time her husband Ken had two autoimmune diseases, forcing the couple to be constantly in and out of the hospital. As Ken’s health deteriorated, Parsons Herro committed her time to helping maintain his real estate business and aiding his wellness any way she could. In September 2017, he was diagnosed with lymphoma and passed away four months later.
Before Ken passed away, he told his wife he wanted to see her back on stage.
“(Ken) was a very big supporter of anything I did in the theater because he just loved coming to see me on stage, especially if I was doing a comic role,” Parsons Herro says. “I got some of the best laughs out of my husband. He called me his funny girl.”
Parsons Herro will return to the spotlight in Skylight’s upcoming production of Pippin, where she will play Berthe. The five-time Tony award-winning musical follows young prince Pippin (Lucas Pastrana), who longs to find passion and adventure in his life. Berthe is Pippin’s bold and sassy grandmother, always there to share some wisdom with her grandson.
Elaine Parsons Herro (Berthe) and David Corlew (Ensemble) in rehearsal for 'Pippin.' Photo by Christal Wagner.
“With Berthe, she’s sweet on the inside, especially when it comes to her grandson, but when she’s dealing with her attendants she’s like, ‘go, get away from me!,’” Parsons Herro jokes. “She is in the country by herself because she’s been exiled from court, so she’s cranky, but I love every part of discovering her.”
Famously played by Irene Ryan in the original run on Broadway and Andrea Martin in the revival, the role of Berthe features the inspiring anthem “No Time at All,” which Parsons Herro is thrilled to perform. She says she can connect to the song’s lyrics about continuing to live life to the fullest when times get tough.
Milwaukee theatre fans may remember Parsons Herro as the long-time owner of Broadway Baby Dinner Theater, which she ran for 19 years with her business partner John Bohan. Named after the Stephen Sondheim song, the theater specialized in musical comedies and revues, which Parsons Herro often starred in.
After Bohan passed away from lung cancer, Parsons Herro attempted to run the restaurant, bar and theater on her own, but it soon became too much. She sold the business in 2007 and Broadway Baby continued for a few more years under new ownership.
“There were so many shows that were so popular, that we extended the run,” Parsons Herro explains. “You just couldn’t get a ticket. When people can see themselves in the characters up on stage, they find it hysterically funny. We put on great shows and I was proud of that.”
Parsons Herro says growing up in New York with theatre loving parents inspired her to pursue a life on stage. While living in Long Island, the family took frequent trips to Manhattan, sometimes seeing three shows in one weekend.
“When we would go to the theater my mother would say to me, ‘which character did you wish you could play?,’” Parsons Herro recalls. “It was never the lead, it was always the character actor. The one who was getting the laughs. That’s sort of what put the bug in me.”
Pippin, presented by Skylight Music Theatre, runs Sept. 21 – Oct. 7 at the Cabot Theatre, 158 N. Broadway. For tickets visit skylightmusictheatre.org or call the box office at (414) 291-7800.