June 13, 2018

Michael Mayes and Maria Zifchak in Atlanta Opera’s Sweeney Todd

I was too sleepy to write last night, so I’m laying here in bed, thinking about finishing my packing for road trip, part 2 and writing this instead of actually doing that. I have procrastination down to an exact science.

The day after the memorial, I said goodbye to the family who headed back to their lives in Seattle and I decided I needed to do something for me and get out of the house so I got on line, bought myself a ticket in the front row of the mezzanine for Atlanta Opera’s production of Sweeney Todd and headed off to the ATL. I decided to spend the night so I wouldn’t have to drive home late night. The production was well cast, well sung, and to hear that score played live by a full orchestra is always a huge treat. Michael Mayes, who sang Valentin when I was in the chorus of Faust, some years ago, was great in the title role. He’s made quite a career out of DeRocher in Dead Man Walking the last few years and he’s superb at projecting menace on stage. He’ll be back in Atlanta this spring for Dead Man Walking and I’ll have to make sure I get over to see that. I’ve wanted to see a production for years. Leah Partridge, who was Ophelia in the Hamlet we did a few years ago, was The Beggar Woman. She was obviously having fun and was in great voice.

Seeing Leah on stage made me think of the winter of 2014-15, a time which ended up transforming Tommy’s life although we didn’t know it at the time. Tommy had finished his music education and speech pathology degrees in late 2011 but had developed some serious pulmonary issues that knocked him out of being able to do much activity until the spring of 2012. He started looking for a teaching job in elementary music education but, as he was entering the field in his late 40s, he wasn’t having a lot of success competing against 20 somethings so he did what he always did and created his own little niche. He began the children’s music program at our church, he taught at the UAB Arts Extension Program, he worked with private voice students, and he became the go to substitute for a lot of the public school elementary music teachers in town. It kept him busy, but having nothing but piecemeal jobs wasn’t sitting too well with him. He also fell into theatrical wigs and makeup at this time, but that’s another story.

Corey McKern in Opera Birmingham’s Hamlet – 2015. Tommy at far stage right

In the fall of 2014, the long time head of Opera Birmingham, decided to move on and, after a search, Keith Wolfe was hired from Fort Worth Opera to come in and take over the company the following spring after some transition period. The previous office manager had also left so, knowing that he was underemployed, the company asked Tommy if he would come in for some temp work that fall and winter. Tommy started showing up that fall as they were getting ready for the January production of Thomas’s operatic version of Hamlet. In December, all hell broke lose and Tommy found himself as pretty much the only employee on staff with an opera going up in six weeks. Never one to back away from a challenge, Tommy kept the company running, and the pieces fell into place with Corey McKern and Leah Patridge starring under the direction of Dona Vaughn and baton of Craig Kier.

When the dust settled, Tommy found himself permanently employed as the Company Manager of Opera Birmingham. It wasn’t what he was intending, but it was a job that allowed him to use many of the skill sets he had developed over the years in administration, organization and management. Production management fell under his purview, and I was pressed into being his factotum, and the two of us found ourselves sewing table cloths, making cafe tables, or shopping for just the right Lily Pulitzer for a leading lady at all sorts of odd hours in the ensuing years. I can’t say I’ll miss spray painting props in our garage at one in the morning.

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