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YOU WON'T SEE THEM, OF COURSE
14 July, 2011
"When the day comes there'll be a grand public ceremonial you'll be the central figure no one will attempt to deprive you of that distinction. There'll be a procession bands dead march bells tolling all the girls in tears Yum-Yum distracted then, when it's all over, general rejoicings, and a display of fireworks in the evening. You won't see them, but they'll be there all the same."
The words are spoken by Ko-Ko in The Mikado. He is trying to convince Nanki-Poo of the good things about agreeing to be executed in a month's time. (Nanki-Poo isn't buying it.)
We always thought it ironic that Gilbert Russak should die on Bastille Day and we have often laughed, somewhat wryly, at that quotation. Every year on the anniversary of his death, there is a display of fireworks -- somewhere -- in the evening, but he's never there to see them.
It is ironic because in a lifetime of playing Gilbert & Sullivan pattermen, Gilbert was best known for two -- Jack Point in Yeomen of the Guard and Ko-Ko in The Mikado. He was the quintessential Ko-Ko, and the cover of the program for his memorial was a photo of him as that character.
In the show, Katisha, the overbearing, unattractive older woman in love with the handsome young Nanki Poo, thinking he has died asks "Oh where shall I find another?" In his eulogy at Gilbert's memorial, John Vlahos, then president of the Lamplighters Board of Director, a good friend of Gilbert's, and himself a patterman said, "The answer to Katisha's rhetorical question is -- never will we find another."
And we haven't. There have been many pattermen, some excellent, some less than excellent, who have pattered their way across many Lamplighters stages, but nobody has quite achieved the level that Gilbert did. It is sad that so many people who have come into the company in the last 25 years know him only from anectdote.
Gilbert has been gone for 25 years and the same group of people who got together the first couple of years on the anniversary of his death, and every year since then, will be getting together again next week to have dinner togther (after 25 years it's become a "movable feast," scheduled to adjust to everyone's busy schedule).
I asked the group if there was anybody who knew him in life for 25 years--and no, there apparently is not. There were people who knew him for more than 15 years, but it appears that those of us who felt we were his closest friends have been getting together to raise a toast ("Oh. It's You") in his memory for longer than any of us ever knew him in life.
I think that would boggle his mind.
It also doesn't seem possible that 25 years have passed. All through that horrible year following his death, the first close friend of mine who died, I had the strongest feeling that I was supposed to be learning something from all that grief work.
And then 10 years after his death, David died and I knew what I was supposed to have been learning.
Gilbert taught me about music, about writing, about
acting, about animation, about computers, about the Titanic and about the Panama Pacific
International Exposition of 1915, to name a few. And in death, he continued being
PHOTO OF THE DAY
We miss you, Gilbert