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Bernard Levin, former Burn Brae Dinner Theater co-owner, died Nov. 23. He was 87.
Bernard Levin, former Burn Brae Dinner Theater co-owner, died Nov. 23. He was 87. (Handout / Baltimore Sun)

Bernard T. Levin, co-owner of the old Burn Brae Dinner Theatre in Burtonsville for 18 years, died Nov. 23 of pulmonary fibrosis at Howard County General Hospital. He was 87.

An attorney for six decades, Mr. Levin worked at an Annapolis law firm as recently as last spring, commuting from his home in Columbia.

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Born in York, Pa., Mr. Levin graduated from American University in Washington in 1949 with a bachelor's degree in political science. In 1952, he earned his law degree from the Washington College of Law, now part of American University.

He formed a law firm in 1956 in Washington and ran it for 12 years before a client who had launched a dinner theater gave him tickets to a show at the newly opened Burn Brae, the first of its kind in the Washington metropolitan area.

"I said, 'What's a dinner theater?'" he recalled this year. "One thing led to another, and by December, I was a half-owner."

The client was John E. Kinnamon, who recalled that Mr. Levin "fell in love with the place" and bought out his partner in 1968. They would run the theater together until 1986, with Mr. Kinnamon managing the artistic side and Mr. Levin handling the business affairs.

Mr. Levin would tell friends that he and his partner operated the business on a handshake, and Mr. Kinnamon agreed.

"There was no documentation of any kind," he said.

The partners put on dozens of popular Broadway productions, from "Man of La Mancha" to "Annie." Their "1776," which began its run in 1975, continued for a year and a half. Mr. Kinnamon said that run is believed to be a record for U.S. dinner theaters.

One of the players in that production was Scott Ellis, now a Broadway and television director who has been nominated for multiple Tony awards. Mr. Ellis, who was 17 when he was cast in the Burn Brae production, said Mr. Levin didn't get involved in the artistic decisions but was a constant, supportive presence.

"Every show he'd be there," Mr. Ellis said. "To me it was like 'Dad's here.' You always felt good when Bernie was around."

Mr. Ellis, who stayed in touch with Mr. Levin over the years, said Burn Brae set a much higher standard than the typical dinner theater. Two decades later, when Mr. Ellis directed an acclaimed Broadway revival of "1776," he brought a tape of the Burn Brae version to show to the company.

"It was as good as I remembered it as a kid," he said.

Mr. Kinnamon, who closed Burn Brae about 2000, said the 350-seat theater had a "wall of fame" with the pictures of more than 100 cast members who had gone on to professional success on Broadway, in films and in other artistic endeavors.

"It was something Bernie was very proud of," Mr. Kinnamon said. "He was a mensch, as a lot of the cast members called him."

Mr. Kinnamon recalled that Mr. Levin would work all day and then stay until 11 p.m. or midnight.

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"He knew every line from every show and would quote them all the time," Mr. Kinnamon said.

The long hours began to take a toll, however, and Mr. Levin sold his interest in the theater in 1986. Mr. Levin returned to the practice of law, working for 26 years at the firm of Joel L. Katz in Annapolis handling contracts, family law and estates. He retired in the spring at 86.

His daughter, Pamela Levin Cameron of Farmington, Conn., said Mr. Levin "never worked a day in his life"

"He loved the dinner theater and he loved the law and he never considered it work," she said. Mrs. Cameron said she could not recall him ever cursing or raising his voice.

Mr. Levin served in the U.S. Army from 1953 to 1955 at Fort Sam Houston in Texas.

He was married for 50 years to the former Dorothy (Cowley) La Hue, who died in 2013. A first marriage to the former Coralie S. Spiegel ended in divorce.

In addition to his daughter, Mr. Levin is survived by his son, Michael A. Levin of Strafford, Pa.; his stepdaughter, Jeanne L. Smith of Columbia; six grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by a grandson, Matthew S. Costa.

Services were held Friday in York, Pa.

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