Hi Ho the Glamorous Life (Celebrating 40 “Happy” Years in the Theatre)

This weekend, as I sat in rehearsal for Shrek, the musical that I am currently music directing for Christian Youth Theatre of Fredericksburg, it occurred to me that, with the opening of this production, I will be celebrating forty years of involvement in show business. My first play was at the age of six around Christmastime. I played Santa Claus, and the play revolved around Santa considering putting jet packs on his sleigh to replace the reindeer. I remember almost nothing of the experience, save for the fact that it ended with me (pack over back) walking off the stage, stage left, to the cafeteria door and uttering before I exited, “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.” A star was born. Oh, well, that and throwing up all over my beard once, due to only having eaten a mayonnaise sandwich for lunch before rehearsal.

Me as Santa

Me as Santa, with Karen Zimmerman as Mrs. Claus, in our first-grade play.

Forty years later, I’m on “the opposite side of the table,” just as much as acting, i.e. directing, music directing, composing, and the like, but after forty years I can honestly say that I still love the grand old pursuit or the Fabulous Invalid, but it goes without saying that there are lengthy periods where I hate the business just as much, wish I’d never gotten involved in the first place, and, without question, strongly dislike many of the negative and narcissistic personality types the business attracts. But with that aside, I want to focus on the good times, the special memories, and the unique experiences that being involved in Theatre has given me.

So in celebration of forty years of memories, here are a few of the most…uh…memorable. Almost every one of the following anecdotes is a blog post unto itself, but needless to say, after a forty year run, I’ve seen a few things. Here are a few selected highlights from the long strange trip, all good. I’ll save the not so good, bad, and bitchy memories for another day.

  1. Thanks to the now defunct American Family Theatre, I had the chance to tour parts of our grand country four times. I was to New Orleans before and after Mardi Gras in 1999, put my feet in the Gulf of Mexico, saw Addams Family in Chicago, visited lots of the southern Midwest, and went up and down the East Coast numerous times. With several cast mates from these tours I’m celebrating almost twenty years of friendship. How time flies.
  1. I have performed alongside or worked with a few Broadway veterans, some as acquaintances, others as friends. I have been blessed to work with Sally Struthers, Jonathan Groff, James Lane, Forrest McClendon, Milton Craig Nealy, and Celeste Holm, as well as a few lesser known luminaries. All have taught me something, and I couldn’t be prouder of my time spent with them. And I promise no more name-dropping.
  1. During my high school’s rehearsal period and run of Oklahoma! in 1986, both myself (playing Curly), and the boy playing Jud carried real guns to school in our backpacks, loaded with blanks made in our basement by our parents. The principal knew, and trusted us, and it was a non-issue. My how times have changed.
  1. I have played a Jewish father (Tevye in Fiddler), a woman (Edna in Hairspray), several priests, a movie mogul, a major-general, and lots of “loud-mouthed little guys.” I have been in not one but two productions of Dreamgirls, The Wiz, and Purlie, all with amazingly talented African-American casts. I was the youngest pit conductor to ever make his debut at the Fulton Opera House in Lancaster, PA and once had a production of Annie I directed reviewed favorably by Greenwich Village’s newspaper, The Village Voice.
  1. I choked once on stage while drinking and stopped the show for nearly five minutes while I recovered my voice. Another time, while shooting trap onstage the gun fell apart in my hands. On another occasion my cast of pranksters Vaseline-d all my props so that I couldn’t pick any of them up. Theatre is unpredictable.
  1. When my father played in the onstage pit for Cabaret, a pit done entirely in drag, I had to take him shopping! I can still remember his ugly black sack dress, old lady earrings, and gray wig, all worn while playing his sax. Somewhere there’s a picture. Someday I’ll find it and post it.
  1. I have been in productions where “showmances” escalated into both on and offstage public displays of affection that skirted the boundaries of propriety and decency. And that said, I’m not telling you about any of them, but at the time they were scandalous and fun.
  1. I’ve had a song I wrote sung back to me with affection ten years later by an actor who didn’t realize I was the composer of the song he was singing. That led to my contributing songs to a New York fringe festival musical.
  1. I can name all the Signers of the Declaration of Independence thanks to my love of the musical 1776, and I know the names of more passengers on the Titanic than most people. My general knowledge of world history, cultures and customs, dates and events, has been greatly enhanced by all the plays and theatre history I’ve had to read over many years.
  1. Lastly, and most importantly, my wife Nancy and I met in an acting class at Villanova University. We were paired up for a scene from David Mamet’s Oleanna. I threw a chair at her, and said some horrible things I would never otherwise say to anyone…and she fell in love with me! Life is funny and wonderful that way.

So for all the above reasons and more I say, “Thanks, World of Theatre, for forty wonderful, terrible, illuminating, frustrating years. Here’s to many more together.”




The next project – come see it!


Thanks for the Memories…

I wanted to take a moment to say goodbye to an organization that did so much for me. American Family Theater/American Theater Arts for Youth announced its closure this week in a Facebook post written by their Artistic Director, David Leidholdt. AFT/ATAFY was established in either 1970 or 1971, depending on which website you believe, and lasted for more than forty years as a powerful force for children’s theatre across the country, introducing tens of thousands of children to the magic that is live theatre, and giving over a thousand actors, techs, designers and other staffers the opportunity to go on the road with a national tour, see the country, gain valuable experience, and learn the real ups and downs of the theatre game.

AFT/ATAFY was one of my first professional credits, and my first tour with them, Sleeping Beauty, was one of the greatest experiences of my life. As “Wotan the Wizard” and “Mannequin the Evil Knight” I toured the country from Boston to Texas playing our little show in as many configurations as possible. I saw the Gulf of Mexico for the only time in my life (to date), went to New Orleans right after Mardi Gras, rode out a hurricane in Wilmington, NC, and visited Jefferson Davis’s home, Beauvoir, in Biloxi, Mississippi. I made several lifelong friendships, especially with Chrissie Corbin and David Bickle, and met tons and tons of wonderful children, at least two of which kicked me in the groin. This all thanks to one man, Don Kersey, AFT’s then artistic mover and shaker, taking a chance on me, and the wonderfully batty and saccharine experience that was American Family Theater.

In the mid 2000s when money and opportunity were scarce I called AFT up and offered my services and they were only too happy to put me back to work. I went out on the road three more times with a different show, Babes in Toyland, made several new friends, and then did two Philadelphia-based patriotic shows at the National Liberty Museum, a museum owned by Laurie Wagman’s, (the owner of AFT/ATAFY), husband. I served them for a time as a hotel booker and in and around that managed to music direct seven of the tours that went out over a three year period. Their new Artistic Director, David became a dear friend to me and was a guest at my wedding. Also, in the mid-2000s AFT/ATAFY put my now sister-in-law, Mary Anne Furey, on the road for two tours and, though her experiences were not mine, I know that she gained valuable experience as well and had her eyes opened to parts of America she would never have seen without the opportunity to work for AFT.

So I wanted to say a proper goodbye and thank you to the wonderful, jumbled, frustrating, innocent, and truly magnificent world that was American Family Theater/American Theater Arts for Youth. You changed my life in many ways, opened me up to many new experiences, and ultimately did more for me than can ever be repaid. Thank you for everything. I sincerely hope that something new and wonderful arises to fill the void that children across the county, to say nothing of all the theatre artists, will feel now that you have ceased reminding us of the “magic all around you.”

Annnnd….scene. Blackout.