By Michael Howell
Local artist Penelope Klaphake has found a way to combine two of the things she loves most, art and theater. The result is a giant “portrait” of 1930’s era Broadway in New York City. The acrylic painting that she produced in her home in Stevensville is large in its original state, stretching from one wall to another in one of the bedrooms turned studio. But the thing is destined to be even bigger. The aim now is to reproduce it as a mural about seven times larger, that is fourteen feet high by eighty-four feet long, on the wall of the Arizona Broadway Theatre, located in Peoria, Arizona.
When it comes to painting, Klaphake said, “Since childhood, I have always been a dabbler.” When her children were young she got a little more serious and began painting portraits in oil that she sold. Then she lagged for a bit on the serious work for sale but did continue to sketch.
In 2001, her husband Ron Klaphake (recently elected to the Stevensville Town Council) and son Kiel were suddenly inspired to build a theater in Peoria. And so they did. They raised the money, designed a building, and built it. The Arizona Broadway Theatre, a dinner theater seating about 40 people, opened its doors in 2005.
Although they still own the building, the theater operation itself was turned into a non-profit community based organization in 2008. They put on eight major productions a year, eight shows per week, every week of the year.
The idea of a mural on the theater building celebrating Broadway theater of the 1930’s began to germinate, but the sprouting and blossoming of the idea took years and years. She spent close to seven years researching and sketching before finally starting on the painting itself which then took one and a half years to complete.
Klaphake decided to put one hundred “Broadway-related people” in the composition, split equally between men and women. Many she was already familiar with because they were so famous, like the leading couple Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Others, like Eva LeGalliene and Bob Crosby (did you know Bing had a brother?), she was not familiar with, but came to know through her studies of the era. Everyone pictured has been researched to some degree and their portrait is based on historical and photographic data.
A few people pictured are not from the 1930’s era but almost, like Carol Burnett, who is pictured as a baby, because she was one at that time. Or the people are related to the Arizona Broadway Theatre, like her husband Ron, and children including Kiel, Karena and her husband Mark Tapsak, daughter-in-law Cassandra Norville Klaphake, and even the artist herself.
Every detail counts in the paintings and is based on research. For instance, that George Gershwin appears to have a headache is related to the fact that he died of a brain tumor at an early age. Many of the performers are pictured in outfits that they actually wore.
So much research was done and incorporated into the painting that Klaphake is now putting it in book form. Even if she keeps it down to two pages per person it will be a long book. And if it’s anything like the painting, it will be very interesting and hopefully as colorful.
This is a painting that someone can look at for a long time, time and time again.
But Broadway in the 1930’s is not just people; it is also theaters and every theater on Broadway, from 42nd Street through 47th Street, is pictured, with name and street number attached. There will surely be a lot to learn about those buildings as well in Klaphake’s upcoming book.