Tag Archives: Barbra Streisand

An Opera House…in Kentucky?

You Can't Take It 10It would have been about 1:00 in the afternoon on a weekday in 1970…
…in an opera house…
…in Lexington, Kentucky.

Why was I there?

Was it to see a production of Carmen, or Madama Butterfly, or Rigoletto?

Nah!

I was there for the weekday bargain matinée at the Opera House Movie House on a fairly sketchy block of North Broadway. For a $1.50 I was settling in for a cinema mini-festival of the Barbra Streisand/Jack Nicholson classic; On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (she sang, he didn’t…thank God) followed by Waterloo featuring Rod Steiger and Christopher Plummer in the mud (neither sang as I recall…thank God).

The theme of this film pairing is strikingly apparent; tedious films employing and contrasting singing and cannon fire as mediums for selling a ticket or two…and maybe a tub of Buttercup Popcorn.

Frankly, I don’t recall much of the afternoon that was indelible in an uplifting way. I recall a long afternoon of affordable and forgettable flicks. I recall dimness, not just in the screening room, but in the lobby (skimping on lighting – a double savings; lower electric bills and less spent on actual housekeeping). I recall passing on the Buttercup offerings; the dim lighting couldn’t obscure the sharp, refinery whiff emanating from the butter(?)-dispensing mechanism. I recall the occasional skittering noises of the legendary rodent cleaning crew in the dark rows of the screening room celebrating the discarded remains of the Buttercup offerings.

Hey!
Buck fifty.
Two films.
You get what you pay for.
Plus Yves Montand and Ivo Garrano…and Mickey and Jerry (without Tom).

Well…that was then.
Eight years later, at age 27, I’m playing the 70+ year old Grandpa in Studio Players’ production of You Can’t Take It With You on the Opera House stage – same building. The seats are new. The balconies and boxes are gilded and populated with Lexington theater-goers. The lights are bright. The lobby, halls, staircases, carpets, and aisles are proudly pristine. No Buttercup products are in sight (or in smell).

What happened?

In the 70’s, the Opera House was attacked by ice storms, gravity, and old age. The wrecking ball loomed.
The city of Lexington and a group called The Opera House Fund said “No.”
A serious architect, and a serious Lexington, and a serious Opera House Fund (thank you Linda Carey and W. T. Young) redesigned and restored the structure – not to a museum roadside attraction, but to a thriving driver of Central Kentucky’s performing arts community.

A year after the success of You Can’t Take It With You, I played a deliciously young and foolish Cornelius in Studio Player’s production of Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker in a Saturday afternoon performance to 54 (count ‘em!) attendees in a house that seats about a thousand. Another fairly grim afternoon in the Opera House, but at least the grimness was in striving for something good, not in hygiene or affordability.

I should mention here that in both of these shows I got to work with my friend Paul Thomas. Paul has retired a myriad of times from the teaching profession and is now the House Manager of the Opera House. I believe the Opera House muckety-mucks value his participation, but are unaware that his best and highest use is ON-stage, not off. Such is fickle fame.

In 1981, I urged everyone to “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” in Lexington Musical Theatre’s production of Guys and Dolls. This was a notable production for Paul’s vocal exploration of musical scales of which Schoenberg never dreamed.

In 1982, Paul and I played in Brigadoon, also for Lexington Musical Theatre. Paul demonstrated a technique for holding a gun that the NRA is still trying to explain and justify.

Both of these edifying experiences were on the Opera House stage.

In 1987, I had the totaling fulfilling experience of playing Dr. Watson to my friend Eric Johnson’s Sherlock Holmes in the world premiere of my friend Chuck Pogue’s luscious script; The Ebony Ape, on the Opera House stage in an Actor’s Guild production. A two-story set, perfect and beautiful costumes, Fred Foster, Julieanne Pogue, Martha Campbell, Rick Scircle, Matt Regan…a glorious time for Mrs. Leasor’s little boy.

This was also on the Opera House stage…thank you very much.

A year later, in The King and I (a Lexington Musical Theatre production directed by my friend, Ralph Pate), Janie and I appeared in our one and only show together. She was lithe and lovely. I was…not so much, but I got to sing some beautiful songs for which I was not particularly suited (not, alas, an uncommon occurrence).

This was also on the Opera House stage. Sorry…but look at Janie! Isn’t she fine?

Carousel 01Now…
…skip ahead with me to 2006.

I’m asked to play the Star Keeper in the University of Kentucky Opera Theater’s production of Carousel at (you guessed it) the Opera House.

Well, I guess I could.

I walk out on the Opera House stage, count the stars – the stars!– , revive the protagonist and inspire him to return to life and assure his daughter that she’ll “Never Walk Alone.”

Whoa.

This is a far cry from 1970 and Waterloo and…

“On a clear day, rise and look around you and you’ll see who you are.
On a clear day, how it will astound you that the glow of your being outshines every star.
You’ll be part of every mountain, sea, and shore.
You can hear from far and near the words you’ve never heard before.”



Well…
…maybe…
…not so far.

Bungalow Jukebox Ju-Ju

Bungalow Jukebox Ju-Ju

D’ya know what joss sticks are?

The tame definition in Wikipedia is that they are slow-burning sticks of incense, burned before idols in religious ceremonies. Well sure, you could use them that way…just as you could use your new $1,000 I-Phone to make a phone call or prop your book open while you read.

Or, your joss sticks could be notched and imprinted in such a way that when you tossed them like pick-up-sticks (remember them?) and pondered the resulting pattern, you could deduce future strategies for living. Or, as posited in Guy Boothby’s peripatetic “Dr. Nikola” novels, you could rule the world and direct its populations to nefarious, but profitable ends.

Wow!

How about tarot cards; similar purposes minus the world domination option (and don’t they look pretty on the table?)

Or tea leaves, or crystal balls, or palms, or horoscopes, or odd number coincidences, or Madame Cleo …or the Daily Racing Form for that matter.

Guidance; that’s all we’re seeking. Oh sure, we’ll take world domination, but that’s not our primary goal. We just want a subtle or crude finger-post suggesting; “Ya, might wanna try this.”

I admit I’ve tried all of the paths mentioned with pretty consistent results; zip, nada, uh-uh.

But…

…there is one oracle that’s been spot on.

Once upon a time there was a restaurant/bar in Lexington called The Bungalow. They had fine mimosas, sinfully delicious desserts (thank you, John Barker Gray), killer “Eggs Nova Scotia”, a later night crowd of vague genders and chimerically specific wardrobes,

…and a legendary jukebox.

There was a central master jukebox with satellites at the perimeter tables. The satellites had those wonderful manual tabs that could be flipped from A-3 (“I Believe in Love”-Barbra Streisand) to D-4 (“Johnny Angel”-Shelly Fabares) in a 1980’s second.

I loved that jukebox.

I adulated that jukebox.

I trusted that jukebox.

These were pre-Liquor Barn, Shoppers Village Liquors days for me. I would go to my office on Saturday mornings, check in with every store, check in with Rob (the owner), pick up Janie, have brunch at The Bungalow, and work in the stores in the afternoon. This was a “happy place” for me.

I could pretty well determine what kind of day it would be by the selections heard on the jukebox at brunch. Would be a “Stop! In the Name of Love”-Diana Ross and the Supremes kind of day, or a “Cry Baby”-Janis Joplin disaster of a day?

It rarely steered me wrong.

I think everyone rued the eventual demise of The Bungalow, but few were aware of the collateral damage of losing that jukebox. Guilty as charged.

About the year 2000, I had the great good luck to a do show with Michael Thompson. As to be expected, he was excellent in his role and excellent company to boot. Michael had served a good bit of time as bartender at The Bungalow. One night at rehearsal he handed me a jewel case with two cd’s. It was a compilation of all the selections from the jukebox at The Bungalow. He had also taken the matchbook cover from the restaurant and rendered it into a cover for the cd. What a treasure!

If you can wear a cd out, I have just about worn this one out.

And yes, if I pop it into my playlist and hit “random” and “String of Pearls”-Glenn Miller chirps free, I go about my day with a bit more irrational confidence. Or if “Beyond the Sea”-Bobby Darin starts crooning, I go find Janie and we talk vacation possibilities.

You can keep yer joss sticks.