It was the summer of 1982, not quite two years after Lisa Birnbach wrote “The Official Preppy Handbook,” and I got a call from my agent in New York. After several rounds of auditions, I (then known as Susan Dow) was cast in “Preppies” and was rehearsing at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut.
The show was being directed by Pete Masterson, a fellow Texan, and straight off of his hit “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.” His oldest daughter, Lexi, was in the show and his younger daughter who was still in high school would come and visit on the weekends. I don’t think any of us would have guessed Lexi’s baby sister would go on to be the movie star Mary Stuart Masterson. After performing the show for future backers, our four weeks were up we said our goodbyes and headed back to Manhattan.
Twelve whole months would pass before I got another call from my agent informing me that they were now ready to do “Preppies” Off-Broadway. Of course nothing is easy in show business, and my agent informed me that the show had a brand new director/choreographer named Tony Tanner, and we would all be required to audition for him. After singing and dancing several times, I was cast as Lallie deForest. I was more than surprised to learn that I was the only one from the workshop that had been cast in this new production.
Some fun little tidbits about “Preppies” are that the music was written by a very young Gary Portnoy, best known for writing the theme song to the hit TV show “Cheers.” The cast, of course, was in head-to-toe madras and Lily Pulitzer, had taps attached to our Top-Siders, and even did a number in the show with flippers on our feet. You can find copies of both the script and cast album on eBay, and I understand that “Preppies” is quite popular with high school drama departments.
I always thought that our producer, Anthony Fingleton, was a true blue-blood preppy, but I did a little research to refresh my memory and discovered that Tony came from quite humble beginnings in Australia. But he did go to Harvard, and that probably counts for something.
I would love to wrap this story up with a wonderful opening night, rave reviews and a long run, but that isn’t the way this show turned out. “Preppies” received less-than-stellar reviews and closed within a matter of weeks.
But great things did come from being in “Preppies.” I made and remain friends with most of the cast. We all got along, which I will tell you is quite rare. The saddest thing about closing was not being able to laugh every day with those funny and talented actors. I became best friends with fellow castmate, Karyn Quackenbush, and two years later she would set me up on a blind date with a guy named Scott Bartlett.
Scott and I just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary and have two terrific sons. — SUSAN BARTLETT
Susan Bartlett — we kid you not — makes preppy clothes for dogs and sells them on Etsy (where she also occasionally sells vintage menswear). Her son Sam, a jazz pianist, graduates from SMU this spring and can be seen here performing the classic “Straight, No Chaser.”