I’ve taken center stage as leading man (a euphemism to feed my ego) twice in my life. They were memorable in different ways and for different reasons. And then there is that part about the eight year gap between appearances. I didn’t exactly retire, but let’s not go there, shall we?
My first appearance as a Thespian (not to be confused with another very similar sounding but altogether different word) was in fourth grade at Stillman Elementary School, literally across the street from the red castle providing our shelter at the corner of 4th Street and 3rd Avenue, in Plainfield, New Jersey.
The show which only survived a singular performance was Tom Sawyer, and I held the lead. I won the part, I’m told, because I showed up at auditions with the entire script – all the parts – memorized, which is rather comical given that my memory is that I adlibbed my way through much of the play, and especially the famous fence whitewashing scene. Personally I suspect it was because my father provided the sheetrock/drywall used in the construction of the aforementioned fence.
The production may have been a one night stand, but my legendary performance grew in shape and stature, to the point where even a year later, in another school, on the other side of town, I would still be recognized by calls of “You there – Tom! Tom Sawyer!” instead of my given name.
It was eight years before I took center stage as the male lead in another off Broadway production. Performed for the senior class of 1971 at Miami Carol City Senior High School, this wasn’t even a one night stand. It was performed one time in my high school’s lecture auditorium during school hours.
My high school drama department did a ‘real’ production every year. Rebel without a Cause was memorable, as was Arsenic and Old Lace, the latter being cast entirely of school faculty. Sadly, I can’t say the same for my show, No, No, A Million Times, No!, a musical melodrama produced, directed, choreographed, and accompanied on Piano, by Mrs. Madelyn Feickert, the director of our choral mixed vocal ensemble Madrigal group, the Tempos. I played the part of Nobel Pureheart. It was the usual fare – get the bad guy, rescue the girl, save the world, all while singing and dancing. If we weren’t onstage, we were all production crew.
What I remember most is the ending, a fairly lengthy number during which I had to sing the title song while holding the heroine Polly Sweetbuns or something like that. I remember the name of the student who scored the part, but feel somehow that it might be best to keep that under wrap for reasons which should become self evident. I’ll say only every time I see a certain brand of professional kitchen equipment, I think of her.
I was 5’81/2”, 135 pounds, and while I could bench 10 reps of 350 on the school’s universal weight machine located adjacent to the gymnasium on its east side, I was nor prepared to hold ‘Polly’ for the entire length of the closing number. My arms were turning to spaghetti, and I could feel my knees turning to rubber. I’m reasonably certain I was 5’8” at the end of the three encore show. The director, in a momentary show of mercy allowed me to set Polly back on her feet for the third and final encore. At least I didn’t finish out the school year to a running chorus of “Hey! Noble! Noble Pureheart!”
Other than a monologue called The Innkeeper’s Remorse, and the lead in a comical religious adaptation of A Christmas Carol, that pretty sums up my thespian career.
At least I’m not typecast forever as a pre-adolescent Mark Twain character.