John and Connie Price - Musicarnival

13301 Lake Shore Boulevard
Constance Mather Price
Constance Mather Price

John L. Price Jr. was born on May 20, 1920. His education included Hawken School, Cleveland Heights High School, and Western Reserve University. Following graduation he enlisted in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He landed on Utah Beach in the first wave of the Normandy invasion on D-Day.

During World War II, Constance Mather served with the Red Cross Clubmobile and the USO in England, France, and Germany.

Constance was born in Boston on July 21, 1918, to Philip R. Mather, the youngest son of Samuel and Flora Stone Mather and names after Philip's sister, Constance. She graduated from Shipley School in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, then attended the Leland Powers School of Theater and Bennington College in Vermont.

John and Connie married in 1947. They had four children: John Lamar III, born on May 15, 1948, Philip Mather “Matt,” Diana (Dooley) born on September 15, 1949, and Madeline “Mikey.” All attended Bratenahl School.

After the war, John Price was a key player in musicals at Herman Pirchner’s Alpine Village Nightclub at Playhouse Square. He worked on weekly Cleveland television shows and played Mr. Weather-Eye on WEWS Channel 5 during the station’s early years.

Spotting a trend in the early 1950s of staging summer theater in the round under tents, Price decided to give it a try. After consulting a local statistician to determine the geographical center of the culturally inclined population, the bull’s-eye fell in Warrensville Heights, was also the home to Thistledown Race Track. Price opened his Musicarnival next to the race track, with a production of Oklahoma on June 5, 1954.

Audiences looked forward to more than just the shows themselves. They relished the greeting of the exuberant man in the red Jacket. “Good evening and welcome to Musicarnival,” announced Johnny Price before the main event began.

When Connie Mather returned from the war, she worked at the Dedham Playhouse in Massachusetts, the Cleveland Playhouse, and Cain Park. In 1954 she took part in the planning and development of Musicarnival with her husband and became the theater’s first scenic designer, creating sets for more than three dozen productions.

Connie also designed for Melody Fair in Buffalo, New York, as well as for Cleveland’s East Side Players, Heights Light Opera, and Euclid Little Theater. She performed in Musicarnival productions, as well as with the Chagrin Valley Little Theater and Bratenahl Players. She served as a trustee of the Kenyon Festival Theatre and Lyric Opera Cleveland.

Connie was also active in the League of Women Voters, the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, the Bratenahl PTS, and the Bratenahl Community Foundation. She also acted as a liaison with the Cleveland School Board to integrate the Bratenahl school system into the Cleveland Public Schools. She was an avid bird watcher, skier, and a skilled horsewoman. She won the Hunter Trials of the Chagrin Valley Hunt Club and was president of the Chagrin Valley Trails and Riding Club and a secretary of the U. S. Pony Club.

Musicarnival was the biggest accomplishment of John’s career. Price not only ran the theater, chose the shows and hired the artistic personnel, he also performed in several productions, including "Guys and Dolls," "My Fair Lady," "Kiss Me, Kate" and "Damn Yankees," in which he sang "You Gotta Have Heart."

One of his major coups in the early years of Musicarnival was engaging an unknown soprano, poised for stardom, from Brooklyn, N.Y. Price hired Beverly Sills in 1955 to sing Rosalinda in Johann Strauss II's "Die Fledermaus," a role she repeated soon after that at the New York City Opera.

Price also served as matchmaker to Sills and Peter Greenough, then associate editor of The Plain Dealer. Peter came to him and said, “I have to meet that Beverly Sills girl," Price told The Plain Dealer in 2007 upon Sills' death, "I introduced them, and the rest is history." On November 17, 1956, Peter married Beverly Sills and lived at 9913 Lake Shore Boulevard.

Musicarnival closed in 1975, after which Price served as executive director of the Northern Ohio Opera Association.

Constance died on May 25, 1997, at her Bratenahl home and was buried in Lake View Cemetery. John died on June 20, 2012, at Judson Park in Cleveland after a long illness.