Today in My History
Too Damn Hot
15 June 2020
It's become familiar, this feeling in the pit of my stomach.
I hate it.
We received word that John Ziaja died. "Ziaja" (ZAY-ja) we always called him. He was about 12' tall and was one of the Lamplighters brightest stars for many years. This was my favorite picture of him and it was the last page in second Lamplighter history.
John joined the Lamplighters in the
chorus of Trial by Jury in 1970, and went on from there to give
unforgettable performances of the principal bass/baritone roles in the Gilbert
and Sullivan operas (two roles in most of them), as well as in The Merry
Widow, Die Fledermaus, and a couple of Offenbachs. One of his most
memorable roles was as W. S. Gilbert himself, first in The Savoyards in
1976, and after that in several galas. For many of us, John was Gilbert in all
his curmudgeonly glory — feisty, irascible, brilliant, hilarious, and ultimately
tenderhearted. His Mikado was a towering creation in every way — tall,
forbidding, crazed, and hysterically funny. His Dr. Daly was sweet, poignant,
and lovable, his Don Alhambra elegant, haughty, and amusingly menacing. One
reviewer described his Wilfred Shadbolt as a “bananas oaf.” Every role was
carefully crafted, individualized, and fully inhabited.
After Jean died, Ziaja continued to come to the dinners until his physical problems made it too painful for him to leave the house, so I have not seen him in many years, though he was also part of a "geezers" group that Walt was in -- several Lamplighter men "of a certain age" who got together once a year just to get together.
Walt says the last time he saw Ziaja at a geezer group was when the dinner was at his house, so he didn't have to leave.
There were six men in that group and three have died.
Ziaja was never a close friend but he was a part of that part of my world which was so very special and which is now just slowly disappearing.
Within a few minutes after receiving the notice of Ziaja's death, a second note came from the Lamplighters, announcing the death of Roy Oakley, who played in the orchestra for many years. I used to sit in the front row, right by the orchestra and he and I kibitzed a lot while waiting for the shows to start. I haven't seen him in many years, but still it's sad to know that he, too is gone.
The death of these two had me looking through Book 2 of the Lamplighters history and every page brought back that emptiness in the pit of my stomach.
So many faces, so many friends, so many memories, so many gone.
I wouldn't give up those years with
the Lamplighters for anything, but it's so painful watching them all slip away.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
Ziaja and Robert Wood (also dead), Merry Widow, 1978
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This is entry #7389