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1979: Albert's (in Omaha) is lit!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

My Object All Sublime

In 2000, I decided that the theatre program at Christopher Newport University was a class act, and determined that, over the hill as I was, I would use my position as a faculty spouse to justify trying out for shows. I auditioned (using "The Girl Friend of the Whirling Dervish" as my song) , and was offered a part in the Chorus, which I accepted, knowing full well it would be harder than any part I'd ever done. And it was, but it was so worth it. I got to work with director George Hillow, who not only brought out humorous scenes and situations I never suspected were in the original script, but who also created fantastic sets.

(In the photo, I'm the really pale one. My character was called "Honorable Third-From-Left".)

Early in rehearsals, George put out a call for new lyrics in two of the show's numbers, "I've Got A Little List," and "A More Humane Mikado." Though most of the show's lyrics have aged well, the social offenders on whom the characters were wishing death and humiliation have been replaced by much newer annoyances to revile. It turned out quite soon that he was happy enough with a set of lyrics for the little list that had been used in another production, and I turned my attention to the Mikado's number.

One or two verses I initially wrote were axed and replaced by better ones (also by me). In the course of rehearsal, bits of business were added in.

It was just wonderful, hearing my lyrics sung by a soloist with chorus and orchestra for a live audience that gave the impression they were enjoying it. (The highest compliment the show received, in my opinion, was a student sitting behind my wife, who remarked to his chum, "This is more fun than getting wrecked!")

Allow me to set the stage. The Mikado of Japan, feared by all for his jovial enjoyment of torture, comes to the town of Titipu, where he is greeted by all the other principals and the chorus. The laughter heard in the opening lines of his song comes because the factotums have brought a huge box out onto the stage, and the Mikado has just popped out of it like a mikado-in-a-box. (Jon, our Mikado, carried this off with hauteur and aplomb, despite being claustrophobic.)

By way of introduction, he sings the words of W.S. Gilbert (which I will put asterisks in front of, just in case anyone thinks I'm trying to pass off his lyrics as more of my work):

*A more humane Mikado never did in Japan exist!
*To nobody second, I'm certainly reckoned a true philanthopist.
*It is my very humane endeavor to make, to some extent,
*Each evil liver a running river of harmless merriment.

*My object all sublime, I shall achieve in time--
*To let the punishment fit the crime, the punishment fit the crime--
*And make each prisoner pent
*Unwillingly represent
*A source of innocent merriment, of innocent merriment!

The boring breadwinner who rings you at dinner
To change long-distance plans;
We'll let this annoyer try calling his lawyer
With string and two tin cans.

The dowager old, who makes so bold
As to 'lift' her form and face --
When she has healed, 'twill be revealed
Her nose they did misplace.

The chip-eating chap in his easy chair's lap
Who's wild for spectator sport
Will play them all from inside the ball
Being bounced around the court!

The lout who enjoys his musical noise
And shares it with you on the street;
We shall make a drum of his bum-bum-bum
And kick it on every beat...

*My object all sublime, I shall achieve in time
*To let the punishment fit the crime, the punishment fit the crime,
*And make each prisoner pent
*Unwillingly represent
*A source of innocent merriment, of innocent merriment.

*His object all sublime, he shall achieve in time (etc)

The caliginous creep with his cell-phone's beep
In crowded concert halls;
His number we'll lend to the Psychic Friends
And let them receive his calls!

The lawyers who...

At this point, a cell phone is heard. Jon stops singing. The orchestra stops playing. The chorus and everyone else on stage starts digging frantically through their costumes, looking for the phone. A Gentleman of Japan, who is somehow third from right at this point, triumphantly comes up with the chirping instrument, opens it up and says, "Moshi-moshi? ... hai... hai... " Sudden realization that the call is for the Big Guy himself, who regards me with royal impatience. I knee-walk over and hand him my phone. "Mikado," says Jon. "Sorry, I'm in the middle of a number. Yes... Yes, I love you too, Mumsy." He clicks off and puts the phone in his pocket. I grovel back to my place.

...The lawyers who race and ambulance chase
As a business strategem
Will see how they like to pedal a bike
While the ambulance chases them.

The mentalities small, who write on a wall
That "So and So is a Jerk" --
We'll see to it these'll be everyone's easel
Of calli-o-graphic work!

The playgoer loud, so exceedingly proud
To announce how the show comes out
Will be condemned to announce the end
Of himself; quite soon, no doubt.

*My object all sublime, I shall achieve in time (etc)

*His object all sublime, he shall achieve in time (etc)

(We moved from Virginia in 2005, but for as long as we were there, George was telling people that the biggest laugh ever was when I said "Moshi-moshi." I believe it was Jackie who provided me with this standard telephone greeting. Nowadays I think I should have turned out as the reaction was dying down and shushed the audience, but we only think of these things when it's twelve years too late. Edited to add an audio file, and I think I might be able to provide video of it in the near-ish future.)

15 Nov 2013: I was thinking about the show again today, wearily working out at the Y, and the remarkable talents we had. Fred, our Ko-Ko, has been working steadily on stages in New York City and around, since he graduated. Erik, our Pooh-Bah, has been a fixture on professional stages farther south. When Erik and Fred and Chad performed the trio, "I Am So Proud," the star power on that stage was downright scary. And Jon, who popped out of a box as The Mikado, did so with grace and confidence each night, notwithstanding his nigh-overpowering claustrophobia. The things we are able to do in front of an audience! (My back had gone out, and as I stepped away from the stage, I'd sag more and more until I had to crawl to a couch until my next entrance. I remember seeing Mike doze on the same couch, and when a stagehand gave us the customary alert, "Five minutes," he replied "Thank you five" without waking up.)

What I wanted to say was that I still admire Erik, not just for his virtuoso performance (without changing a word of dialog, he made the scene where he advises Ko-Ko as a variety of functionaries into a cadenza of celebrity impersonations) but for his curtain call. All through the show, he was stern and unbending. As he took his bow, he glared at the audience one last time, raised his fan to his face, and when the fan came down, he was smiling broadly. He had dropped the mask with a wonderful gesture I will steal if I ever get the chance, facing the audience for the last time as himself.

The closest I came to an inspired curtain call was for "Where's Charley?", a show in which I spent my time trying to woo a wealthy widow, never suspecting it was Charley. The real widow, played by Angela, was to my left as we came out. Every night, I gallantly offered her my arm, and every night, she didn't even see me, turning to the gentleman who had won her affection in the last act, at which I would turn away and pretend not to mind. Angela didn't even know I was doing it. Somebody told her, and she said it made her feel so sorry for me! Or rather, for Simon Sylvester Salsonberry Spettigue, I suppose.


Susan the Neon Nurse said...

What a blast you must have had! Thanks for letting us live it vicariously. Your lyrics were, as always, swell.

The first time I ever heard someone say Moshi-moshi was Sgt. Yemana on the Barney Miller show, the day everyone ate the "special" brownies Wojo's hippie girlfriend made....

Kip W said...

I have a sound file of the number (and a video of the whole show), so I like to relive the thrill every now and then. I've thought of lots of things I could have done!

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