My wife and I recently attended a performance of our daughter’s high school musical. You should infer nothing from the fact that our daughter is 30 years old.
I’ll get back to that in a moment.
I don’t remember my high school putting on any musical extravaganzas, at least nothing as elaborate as kids put on these days. Of course, there’s a lot I don’t remember from 45 years ago. But there are three theatrical experiences I do recall from my childhood.
When I was around eight or so, my mother decided I could sing. I do not know what gave her that idea. She actually took me for lessons, There is a photo of me dressed in a vest, derby and fake mustache as I prepared to sing “Harrigan,” a song you’ve probably never heard of, possibly because it is from an obscure 1907 Broadway musical called Fifty Miles from Boston.* I assume I actually performed the song in front of people (why else would I have been in that costume), although I have no memory of actually doing so. (But I still know the tune and some of the lyrics, which are mostly spelling the name “Harrigan”–“H-A-Double R-I-G-A-N- spells Harrigan…”).
Why someone would pick that song for an eight year old is beyond me. But I’ll tell you this: if I could sing before that, I most likely didn’t want to afterwards.
In any case, I’m sure my mother’s ear for talent was amiss. That’s based on an elementary school (P.S. 232 in Queens, NY) salute to Lerner and Loewe, for which I was not chosen to sing “On the Street Where You Live” or “If Ever I Would Leave You” or “Almost Like Being in Love.” Instead, I appeared in the performance of “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly.” One of the prettier girls (I think it was either Lisa Binderoff or Joy Sarfaty) sat in a high-backed chair singing the song while all the boys who had absolutely no musical talent and, thus, could not be used in any other way, swayed back and forth unrhythmically behind her.
I was one of them.
My only other appearance on stage was in the Stella Maris production of Annie Get Your Gun. Stella Maris** was an all-girls Catholic school in Far Rockaway, ugly and box-shaped (the building, not the girls). When they put on their spring musicals, they recruited male actors from the drama department at John Adams High School in Ozone Park. That was my school. I wasn’t in the drama department, but I had friends there.
A couple of them were chosen to participate in the show. A few more of us accompanied them to the rehearsals, because we wanted to support our pals’ thespian efforts.
Also, there were rumors about Catholic school girls.
Although none of the actresses or staff knew why the rest of us were there, they sort of grew accustomed to our faces (oh, wait, that’s Lerner and Loewe again), so that, during the last performance, it was no problem for our friends who were in the show to give us cowboy hats and sneak us out on stage for the finale. So, there I was, mouthing the words to “There’s No Business Like Show Business” inaccurately but enthusiastically while swaying back and forth (again!). Then I happened to glance toward the wings and saw a nun giving me the evil eye and motioning with a single accusatory finger for me to get the hell off the stage.
I don’t think she even knew I was Jewish.
So, anyway, that was the sum total of my theatrical career.
Our daughter Casey, however, loved the stage, even while she preferred to be off it. She did appear briefly as “The Red-Haired Girl” in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown (she was born to play the role, or at least her hair was), but even though she actually can sing and has performed as a musician in front of people, I guess she doesn’t like memorizing lines or, what’s that word? Right–acting.
So all through high school, she worked on the tech crews, designing and making scenery and moving sets and props during performances. My wife and I dutifully attended these shows, often performed with rushed and barely audible dialog and sometimes painfully off-key singing, and we applauded when the tech crew came out, usually dressed entirely in black, to take their bows. We were probably the only people in the audience with no relatives in the show, as if we possessed a somewhat unsavory desire to watch teenagers impersonate grown-ups in How to Succeed in Business and Little Shop of Horrors.
But after four years, we sent Casey off to art college and figured we were finished.
And we were…until she got a job as a film teacher in a local private school. And, of course, she immediately volunteered to be involved in their productions, becoming the main costume designer. And, of course, we go to see the productions even though, once again, our daughter is never actually in the shows.
And that is why we recently attended our 30-year-old daughter’s high school musical. But at least now we know we’re not the only people in the audience without a performing relative.
That’s because we sit next to Casey’s husband Alex.
*Although James Cagney performed it in the movie Yankee Doodle Dandy, about its composer, George M. Cohan.
**Stella Maris closed in June, 2010, due either to low enrollment or incursions by an undesirable element from John Adams High School.