Dazzled son of the stage keeps tradition gleaming


The theater programs that carry the credit "Directed by Todd Pearthree" make a tall stack.

The 39-year-old director continues his tradition of work, work and more work with his production of the 1938 musical comedy, "The Boys from Syracuse," in the Spotlighters Theatre at 817 St. Paul St. It opens April 30 and runs weekends through May 30.

Todd Pearthree (pronounced pear tree) has a name to be reckoned with in Baltimore theater circles. Walter, his father, who died several years ago, appeared in many local productions. Pippa, Todd's sister, just completed starring roles at Center Stage and the Yale Repertory Theater. She's on the cover of American Theater magazine.

It did not take too long for the Pearthrees to establish themselves as a local theatrical dynasty. Some people called them the Barrymores of Bolton Hill, where the family lived in the 1300 block of Bolton St. for many years.

"At 12 or 13, I discovered the Baltimore bus system and that was it. I was not often home again. And living in Bolton Hill, all I had to do was walk across the North Avenue Bridge and I was at the old Five West movie theater at North and Charles. On Saturdays, there was live children's theater. I was a lamb or a lion. I loved it. But school was a bust for me. I barely made it through Northern High," he recalls.

His father was also an art director for an ad agency. He had a distinct influence on his son and daughter.

"My father was pretty forthright in his opinions. He didn't care for anybody not involved in the arts. I don't think Pippa and I could have become anything else," he says.

Todd Pearthree can't recall if it was 1959 or 1960, but his first appearance on a stage was one of his best. The Baltimore Actors' Theatre led by Helen Grigal was doing "Peter Pan" at the old Ford's Theatre on Fayette Street.

"My father had a role. The cast album was being played at home. It sounded pretty good to me. I was cast as one of the children and I was hooked to wires and got to fly.

"What a cast of Baltimore unknowns! Howard Ashman [later lyricist of "The Little Shop of Horrors" and Disney's "The Little Mermaid" and "Aladdin"], Michael Tucker [TV's "L.A. Law"], Goldie Hawn and Eddie Strauss, the conductor of 'Guys and Dolls' in New York, were all in it," he recalls.

As a teen-ager, he talked the rector of Bolton Hill's Memorial Episcopal Church into lending him the parish house for an amateur company. Before long, Todd Pearthree was doing his own plays and musicals.

His name was soon synonymous with local theater. He taught at Friends School while directing at the Vagabond, the Spotlighters or Cockpit in Court at Essex Community College, where some of his largest productions were mounted. He is also a battle-scarred veteran of the dinner theater circuit -- Colony 7, White Marsh, Harlequin, West End (Alexandria, Va.) and Petrucci's (Laurel).

He took some friends' advice and tried New York. His first job was at the Light Opera of Manhattan, where he developed a deep affection for the musical stage and knowledge of its history. He can quote from "Mlle. Modiste" and "The Desert Song" and "A Chorus Line."

The death of his parents brought him back to Baltimore, where he lives in a Towson apartment off Kenilworth Drive. "My sister is furious with me that I don't live downtown anymore. But I come home late and have a parking spot. It's very suburban," he says.

He remains most at home, however, near the stage curtain. As a director, he's known to be demanding and precise and concerned with all the details of a production.

"You come home at night and you're so tired you fall into the bath tub. But you work with wonderful people. You are your own boss. And you get to play," he says.

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