June 9, 2018

The set looked just like that – Seattle, 1967

There hasn’t been a lot going on the last few days. I’ve been doing prep for the memorial on Monday and getting the house ready for the descent of family tomorrow but it’s been otherwise uneventful. Except for the evenings. I’ve spent the last two evenings with my Birmingham music/theater family. Last night, Ron and Randi Bourdages invited me to the final dress of the Birmingham Music Club spring production. I had been slated to perform in it, but my life fell apart just as it went into rehearsal so I had to withdraw. Their spring production has become a celebration of operetta, a genre not often performed and I had appeared in previous years in The Desert Song and Die Fledermaus for them. This year, rather than a full show, they opted for an operetta revue with selections from Victor Herbert, Sigmund Romberg and, of course, Gilbert and Sullivan. The show was great fun, tuneful, and well sung with some of the best voices in town.

Tonight, I went to the opening night of Red Mountain Theater Company’s production of Beauty and the Beast. It was a bit of a bittersweet night as this was the production Tommy was working on when he died. We sat some in his hospital room while he bounced hair and makeup ideas off of me. Holly McClendon, his assistant for the last few years, picked up the ball and the show looked lovely. And nobody’s wig fell off, which is always a plus. Both shows brought up emotions and thoughts so a couple of short stories related to them.

First, operetta. My introduction to the form was through my mother, who was born to British emigres and was therefore steeped in British culture. When I was five, the D’Oyly Carte company made its last North American tour with the original stagings of the Savoy Operettas and I was taken to see HMS Pinafore. I was smitten and remember it vividly. I was, of course, given several LPs of famous G and S songs and knew all the words to I Am A Pirate King by the time I was six or seven. It occurs to me, that if I live into my 80s, I will be one of the last people who can state that they saw the original staging of a Gilbert and Sullivan. I have always been a fan and I am trying to persuade Birmingham Music Club to do a Pinafore or Mikado next year so I can be in the ensemble. My great great aunt, Dolly Meiklejohn, older sister of my great grandmother Lucy, was, according to family lore, ‘a great favorite’ of W. S. Gilbert in 1880s and 90s London. I’m not sure what that’s supposed to mean and, as I have never seen her mentioned in any of his biographies, I assume the relationship was likely friendly acquaintance and platonic in nature.

Next, Beauty and the Beast. This one hit me on an emotional level that I wasn’t expecting, but I think it’s because the central story of two wounded and alienated people becoming one is very personal. I have always felt like the outsider, looking in the window at the party and wondering why I can’t be part of it. (And this probably explains my life long obsession with Sondheim as almost all of his works are about this sort of alienation). I don’t like emotion, and almost always have my guard up against it, but, twice in my life, there has been someone who has been persistent at finding out who’s hiding behind those castle walls and who have broken in and won my heart. I refer, of course, to Steve and Tommy.

The Disney film of Beauty and the Beast opened in the fall of 1991 and Steve and I went to see it. In general, we didn’t go to Disney films, but the year before, we had made friends with a Disney animator while on the ferry to Santa Catalina and she had told us about the project and that she felt it was going to be something special. We were in San Francisco for the weekend (we generally went down to the city for the weekend every four to six weeks) and went to see it at a cinema someplace on Van Ness and we were both mesmerized, especially when it got to Be Our Guest and to the ballroom sequence where the computer animation allowed for effects which hadn’t been seen in film before. We were both smitten, went back to see it again a couple weeks later and let our animator friend know she was right. I think both of us saw the film as a sort of metaphor for our relationship. We’d been together just over two years at the time and had gone through a number of upheavals and were finally feeling we were hitting some sort of groove.

Tommy and I didn’t have the same sort of relationship with the film. I can’t remember if we ever watched it together although I know it’s in the collection. We did watch the live action remake with each other, but he was busy analyzing hair styles as he knew the show was coming up and he viewed the film as research material, not something to be savored.

I never saw the original Broadway production. It was one of the few long running shows of the 90s that I managed to miss. I have seen it on stage a few times in community and regional productions. It’s fun, but I don’t think the material is quite as perfect as the original animated movie. Susan Egan, the original Broadway Belle, started following me on Twitter a few years ago. She apparently likes my Geriatrics Tips of the Day. I think she’s my only ‘celebrity’ follower. God knows how she ran across my random quips.

Wedding tomorrow afternoon, pride parade tomorrow evening and the family is arriving for the memorial. Looks like it will be a busy weekend.

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