KEEP THE CANDLE
BURNING UNTIL IT BURNS OUT
13 January 2002
Our friend Steve Peithman is the host of a radio program called "Musical Stages." It's a weekly
program which is heard on a few PBS stations across the country. He's an expert on musical
theatre, and so the program consists of his taking a show each week and giving some
background and behind the scenes information about it, as well as giving the plot as he
plays the musical numbers. He's done some pretty obscure shows, and all of the biggies,
and probably all of the good-but-not-well-known musical shows.
Since our life for many years has centered around theatre, and more specifically
musical theatre, it's inevitable that some of these shows are going to evoke memories,
some better than others.
Today I went down to the office to dust (a-hem) and to vacuum
and, since it's a weekend with no patients or providers around, I could turn the radio up.
I was listening to the program before "Musical Stages" and then at 4 p.m., I
heard the overture.
The overture to Oliver!.
Oliver! is one of the bad ones. Not because I don't like the music. I like it very
much, but Oliver! is certain to bring tears, and replay the videotape from years
ago which is stored in my memory banks.
The Sunshine Children's Theatre
(SCT) had been going for perhaps a year at that time, and its director, lin McElroy
decided to direct Oliver!. It wasn't a project for SCT, but was produced under the
auspices of the Davis Art Center.
It was a project that involved the entire family, except Ned, who was living in Rio de
Janeiro at the time (he lived there from age 13-14). Paul played Oliver. Jeri was Bett,
Tom and David were orphans and in Act 2, Tom also played a delivery boy and had a line to
say. Ned would have made the perfect Artful Dodger, but the role went to Paul's best
friend, Kag. Walt worked on the sets and even appeared in one performance of the show. I
Rehearsals were crazy. lin had this choreographer who had never choreographed a show
before. Her idea of "choreography" was that every word should have an action.
She had this huge chorus or orphans trying to learn a hand or foot movement for every
single phrase in "Food, Glorious Food"--she made it incredibly more complicated
than it needed to be.
For Paul and Kag, she choreographed a dance number for "Consider Yourself"
which had them in constant movement, up and down this long staircase. It looked fine, but
they had to SING while doing it and it just about killed the two of them trying to keep
breath to sing AND perform gymnastics at the same time
But when it all came together, it warmed the cockles of a mother's heart.
Though Paul never had a great, melodic voice (it was classified as "quirky" in
the years after he became a rock singer), I loved going to the theatre each night and
watching that pin spot light just his face while he sang "Where is Love?" There
have been better renditions of it, but none that got me as much as that one did.
My favorite number was "I'd do anything," where Oliver and Bette do
a sort of a minuette type dance and watching Paul and Jeri dancing together always brought
a lump to my throat.
The night of the last performance, the man (I hesitate to call him an
"actor") playing the small role of the doctor in Act 2 called in sick. Just
wasn't going to come. Huh? Whatever happend to "The show must go on"??
Stuck for someone to do the role, they asked Walt if he would do it. It was his first
appearance on stage in an acting role. Ever.
He only had the period of time of Act 1 to learn his lines and his blocking (though
he'd seen the show every night, so he wasn't exactly coming in cold to it). While Paul and
Jeri were out on stage performing, Tom and David were backstage running Walt through his
lines and the costumers were fitting him into his costume and putting on his makeup..
We had foreign students staying with us then. They had seen several of the performances
and had decided not to see this closing performance, but when I called to tell them Walt
would be playing the doctor, they rushed down to the theatre. There were no tech people
backstage because everyone came into the house to watch Walt make his theatrical debut.
I won't say that a star was born that night, but everyone agreed that he had done a
better job than the original guy. He didn't speak loudly enough (and Paul, sitting in bed
as Oliver, was muttering softly through his teeth, so the audience couldn't hear,
"louder, Dad.") But in the end, he'd done a credible job and saved the show.
When I think back to those SCT days and the shows we did and remember watching all the
kids on stage, tears well up. Especially for shows like The Music Man and Oliver,
which have a very special place in my heart. I miss those days. And I miss Paul and David so much.
So while the dust settled back again on the office furniture, I allowed myself a little
cry. But then I smiled because I have those memories, and those memories sustain me
at times like this.
...though it sometimes touches me for the likes of such as me, mine's a fine, fine