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A History of Palm Beach's Royal Poinciana Playhouse

by Thomas C. Clarie

Pub Date: April 15th, 2010
ISBN: 978-1934582244
Publisher: Back Channel

As a theater for the performing arts faces destruction at the hands of a commercial developer, friends of the theater join forces to preserve it for future generations in this work of historical nonfiction.

For theater buffs and fans of Palm Beach, Fla., this book is a veritable treasure trove of information. Tracing the history of the Royal Poinciana Playhouse from the late 1800s to the present, Clarie’s research covers every detail from the original development of the land by railroad baron and famed hotelier Henry Flagler to the theater’s current state of limbo as competing forces vie for control over what is arguably the most desirable piece of land in all of Palm Beach. Some of what Clarie (A Lighthouse for Alexandria, 2009) reveals is fascinating. For history enthusiasts not familiar with Palm Beach’s rise from a tropical backwater to its present status as one of the most affluent communities in the United States, this book provides a thumbnail sketch of the men and women who turned their vision for the area into a reality. Showman and entrepreneur Frank Hale seems a character type endemic to America—a humble immigrant who parlayed a flair for song and dance into a cultural empire that catered to the rich and famous. Beautiful socialites, pampered actors, presidents and movie stars roam every page and Clarie never fails to drop a name if the opportunity presents itself. It is, after all, part of the theater’s lasting allure that luminaries from Edie Adams to James Whitmore to Christopher Plummer (who wrote the book’s preface) have graced the Poinciana’s stage. But therein also lies the downside to what could have been an entertaining frolic among the stars; Clarie doesn’t so much tell the story of the Poinciana as create a series of lists that include the dates and names of anyone who has ever been associated with the theater. The result is a book that could have been engaging but is instead disappointingly dull, despite a bevy of photos and artwork. This is regrettable, given the book’s clear design to inspire support in favor of saving the Poinciana.

An impressive compendium that could nevertheless be formed into a more compelling story.