Sorry for the delay - I've had an insane week. I'm juggling working on so many things at once I kind of stare at the computer screen hoping it will say "do THIS next.." cuz I don't have a clue. I was actually catching up on things until at the last minute I got the word that Scott wanted my help for research for TWO shows in New York both coming up last weekend. So everything got dropped for that - and then Tempest deadlines and stuff - and Xmas music for the actors - and Jean Anne's new menu and ARGHGHGGHGH So - anyway.
So I didn't mention that during the first few nights of the war show we figured out that the show order wasn't quite at strong as it could be. We reshuffled a couple things (not cutting...just moving) adjusting the second and third night and it had a great impact. You'd be amazed how much you can shift the effectiveness of a song by just moving it's positioning. The movie show had been too ballad heavy towards the end that didn't work so well - and by the time I was ordering the island show we thought we pretty much had a grasp on the right kind of flow.
Audience reactions continued to be wonderful - if not occasionally baffling. One woman who was asked if she was enjoying the show ("Over There") replied "Yes... but I saw it already in Indianapolis". I'm still trying to figure out EXACTLY how she thinks she saw a small confirmed bachelor singing a blues song about pork tenderloins ANYWHERE else... but ya never know. My best guess is that she saw another war revue somewhere (I know you're shocked that I didn't invent the genre) and figured that because she was hearing one or two of the same songs that i must be the same show? I dunno.
Jean Anne discovered around this time that the area code on my cell phone number was registering on her phone as being "Queens". I had to explain to her that it's because cell numbers in NY are lumped in with that particular borough. Our kind don't doesn't get it's own exclusive area code. Yet. Don't Ask, Don't Cell.
Right after Over There opened we all got thrown for a real loop. One night after the show we'd been invited to go over to Margaret and Larry's for a bonfire (this is a MidWestern traditional which I cannot quite get a grasp on - it seems to involve attempting not to die from smoke inhalation while simultaneously attempting to burn down your own house after one too many beers.) Anyway - we were all excited - and Rich and I were gonna meet the actors there a little later after Rich had tended to his nightly chores. So we're all in a good mood, whoo hoo... we drive up and I swing open the door and say "WEEEEERRRRREEEEEE HEEERRRRRRREEEEEE."
And right in front of us are Gretchen and Tricia with tears streaming down their face looking - well - less than bonfire-whoop-it-up-excited. My initial response was... "oh crap... what did I do this time".
Turns out that just a short while before Larry had collapsed. Like THUMP on the ground. Luckily Grant happened to be downstairs (everyone else was out back) and heard the noise. He went up and found Larry on the ground. Also - incredibly fortunately - Grant is a volunteer fireman - but Larry, apparently was white as a sheet. Grant got Marge and the girls inside and they called an ambulance.
Now - this is the way the story was relayed to me... and this is ONLY funny now that we know everything turned out OK in the end.
Larry couldn't breath and apparently was looking up at Margaret, his eyes turning glassy, saying "I'm leaving you... I'm leaving you". And, now we are about to discover the definition of what it means to be an Eckert... Margaret apparently smacked him across the face and said "YOU'RE NOT F...ING GOING ANYWHERE!!"
And, being a man smart enough to be afraid of an Eckert woman... he didn't.
It was a very, very scary couple of days. Apparently Larry had been bleeding internally for several weeks (which is why he'd thought he had a nasty flu and had been kind of dizzy and passed out that time). He had lost a vast amount of blood and was totally anemic. Everyone was completely freaked out when he was in intensive care. it seemed completely totally unbelievable that Larry - the most seemingly indestructable dude we all knew - could be y'know... destructible. He was, so we learned, very very very lucky - and after he gained a whole bunch of blood, started to regain his color and strength over the next few weeks. Even now, however, he's still off the sauce - which is a good thing because it meant that Rich was finally able to unload some of that O'Douls non-alcoholic beer he'd ordered! So. Larry - not dead. And, as far as I'm concerned, he's not being permission to ever attempt to be dead again.
By the way - apparently that night Margaret left a voice mail on someone's message that was basically something like "tell them all that Larry's still in intensive care and we can't be there... but I'm so sorry about the bonfire, and if they want to come over and swim in the pool tonight THAT'S OK :)" That's Madge.
The Island show, by now, was rapidly coming together. There was a point there were the Three Musketeers seemed to hit a combination of senior-itis, exhaustion, and over-saturation and I was a little concerned that I might have to start grinding up ridilin and putting in their water bottles. But we chugged along - and they even managed to all learn vast passages of Hawaiian (for Aloha Oi and the Hawaiian Wedding Song). Ok - well they managed to simultaneously say something that we FIGURED was a semblance of Hawaiian as best as we could translate it from the sheet music. We figured that if everyone was saying the same thing at the same time, the chances of offending a fluent Hawaiian speaker in Huntington was pretty low. There were those few punch-drunk rehearsals (and one particular performance) where the actors got a little naughty and started their own version of Hawaiian - basically singing anything with a large number of vowels in succession.... Hence - during Hawaiian wedding song, if you listened very closely, sometimes you could hear: "Po Dog Homo Owner He is Jo Jo". Nice. They also liked paying tribute to Tim by sticking the word "Timoteo" in there whenever I wasn't paying attention.
There was one particular number which was causing quite a bit of debate. The song was "Shake Senora" a very rowdy, bawdy little Belafonte tune which had been used in Beetlejuice. This was the song which, really, was about as 'party' as we intended the party to get... and I really thought we just had to flat-out GO THERE. I mean - I've been to Soca concerts in Bermuda... and you think of the sassiness of those kinds of shows... and I thought we needed to turn up the heat a little. Y'know. The real challenge was that this number was LONG. It was like four minutes long. Which is a whole lot of shimmy, shake, shimmy shake. We were all pretty convinced that this was a prime example of what had become the Supper Club rule of thumb. It was a phrase which felt encapsulated the general rule that if you completely committed in performance to the material...and made strong brave choices...that it would look organic and be convincing and not 'cruise-shippy'. Whether you were being a Muppet, a chiquita banana, Celine Dion, a Tiki Bird or a Jamaican hoochy mama. The phrase went thusly:
EAT THE CHEESE OR THE CHEESE WILL EAT YOU.
I intend to patten it and embroider it on throw pillows. Here for instance - the actors are successfully EATING the cheese.
Anyway - so we had this number and we were definitely in danger of being eaten by the cheese. And our solution seemed to be, in rehearsal as the show got closer and closer, to make it more and more elaborate. The mamas needed more hoochy. And, as surprising as you will find this, Colleen a nice Irish Girl from upstate New York found it rather difficult to channel her inner Nell Carter. I kept saying to her "Colleen i still don't believe you are a large black woman. WHY are you NOT convincing me you are LARGE BLACK WOMAN????"
As the hours on this number progressed, and the pack leader threw in his learned two sense, the number evolved into a limbo competition (yes - we had every intention of dragging the audience up onstage to limbo using a bizarre scaffolding assembled from mic stands) and a conga line through the audience (which Rich, somehow, seemed convinced would sweep the audience up into participation). This number practically had turned into the opening of the Lion King. It was full - out. The girls were shaking their maracas...and I don't mean the ones in their hands... Jordan was gyrating... hips were swivelling. It was some major Vegas baby. Eventually we cut the mic stand limbo thing - frankly because Jordan was probably going to poke out an audience members eye with a mic pole. In it's place I was drafted into the conga line and Colleen and Katie and I line danced our way around tables like goons on a Carnival Cruise after 12 pina coladas.
However on opening night we discovered that the number didn't quite have the fun frolic that we'd hoped. Our problem, we rapidly discovered (and by rapidly I mean about four seconds after they had started the number... after which the three of them started to flop sweat in terror) was that the audience was TOOOO CLOSE. It's one thing to get all jiggy onstage and to be playful with the audience and be flirty when they're like y'know twenty feet away. When you have bank presidents and their wives sitting ON TOP of your playing space and you're shaking your money-makers two inches from their face...with their wives right next to you... not so hysterical. it was a little like the audiences faces during Springtime For Hitler. It wasn't that there was anything scandalous - the audience just suffered mild cardiac arrest. It was not our finest hour.
So. The next day - we went at it with a hacksaw. We determined that things had really gone down hill whenever the girls were having to 'freestyle' if you will and were supposed to directly engage the audience. This was NOT working. The conga line was also possibly the most embarrassing and badly conceived thirty five seconds of my entire career. Cut. Cut. Cut. We chopped a full minute out of the song... restructured all of the staging... made sure all the sexy-time stuff was interactive between the three players and NOT the audience - which was far less threatening and embarrassing for all concerned - and made the song a whole lot more playful. It was SOOOOO much better. That night...no more flop sweat.
That's the scariest thing about opening these shows without a test audience. Normally you have a preview, or an open dress rehearsal or something. We just don't have time. And it ain't easy to nail the bullseye every time. So for all those sick twisted people that love coming to opening nights... well... Bah humbug on you.
There was another challenging moment during the opening night of Island Fever. There is an ABSOLUTELY adorable and charming little comedy song called "If you wanna be happy for the rest of your life (get an ugly girl to be your wife)". It's harmless and silly and fun. I DID make the decision early on that to do the number live, though, it could be dangerous to have boys sing it. I figured then it seemed judgemental and sexist and the guys might just come across as jerks. So I gave it to the girls. It was another one which had been kind of an uphill battle in rehearsal - requiring lots of big black woman sass from two tiny white girls. But they were certainly giving it their all. They were shaking maracas...no this time REAL maracas... and having a grand old time. By the time we opened I thought it was in pretty good shape.
The girls performed it beautifully. For the first, say, twenty seconds. And then as they proceeded, they suddenly realized the trap. In a cabaret setting, the audience is your scene partner... you're relating to them the entire time. And they are, as we established, very very very close to you. So - as the girls were singing about Ugly Women they realized they had one of two choices at each table. 1) Look at the man: who then thinks you are calling his wife Ugly. 2) Look at the woman next to him who thinks you are calling her Ugly.
They were in a no win situation. MAYDAY MAYDAY. It was NOT good. NOT NOT NOT. Colleen and Katie started getting slightly twitchy and nervous and just kind of spent the number trying to look nowhere in particular except at each other... every so often shaking their maraca frantically to look bemused.
Four seconds after the show ended we cut the number. "Thank God" they said. So - if you were there opening night and we called you or your wife ugly. Sorry 'bout that.
We weren't only using maracas during the show. See almost all of these songs really should have a strong rhythmic element, and Tim simply didn't have the time to fully sequence all of them (he can't really do drums live - multiple instruments yes - but whenever we have a rhythm track most of that has to be pre-recorded and layered on top of live). So, on a fortuitous trip to Walmart I found a fun childrens rhythm toy kit which had a drum, and shaker eggs, and tamborine, and maracas and stuff.
They actually were awesome. And in various numbers the actors would use them to add a little bit of rhythm to the ballads and stuff. Colleen became relatively obsessed with the shaker egg and it's multitude of musical variations (two). She also seemed very pleased that she was able to store it undetected in her cleavage. Don't ask me why. During one particular song of Jordan's, one of the more famous songs of the evening actually, "Jamaica Farewell" Katie and Colleen sat on stools and sang backup and added rhythm. Colleen opted for - the egg. Which mean we needed Katie to play the drum. Gently. Soft gentle, soothing drumming during a beautiful sad little song.
Katie was not the finest drummer at the outset. Jordan would start to sing and underneath (in an oddly unsettling variation of tempos) you would hear: WHUMP thud...whack...ugga...boom...dugga dugga dugga WHUMP thud...... (silence silence) THUD booga booga thump WHACK thud."
It was scientifically impossible not to listen to this and not lose control of your bladder due to it's enormous hilarity. And Katie was taking this very very VERY seriously. She would sitting there acting her pants off...looking wistful and sad... simultaneously going BONG BUMPA THUMP WHACK... and we would all completely fall apart laughing. If anyone ever needed to come up with a good punishment for Hitler...I think a 24 hour loop tape of Jordan tap dancing while Katie is drumming might just do the trick.
But, once we got these few little hiccups sorted out... the Island Show was a blast. Rich had been very nervous about how people would react to it - and if they would even like the music at all. I'd grown up with these songs...and I thought the music was beautiful - but it was, clearly, or most obtuse choice of the summer, and as we reached opening I grew a little nervous that I might have made a mistake lobbying for it all those months ago. Particularly with it starring the Wonder Bread Triplets.
But they LOVED IT. And, after cutting ugly girl and the lap-dancing, we loved doing it to. The audience got totally into it... and I don't just mean the tropical drink specials. Every night at least sixty percent of the audience showed up dressed for the theme. I think what happens is that people go on vacation to Hawaii and they buy a muumuu or a gaudy shirt or whatever and they LOVE it while they're there... but then they got home and think "Well now, where the hell can I wear THAT??!" So it sat in the closet collecting dust - and then WE DID THIS SHOW. It was amazing... I mean I had no idea this many people had even BEEN to Hawaii.
The new meals were mega yummy - Jean Anne's teriyaki chicken was awwwweeesome and I was very very fond of the key-lime cheesecake. Every so often there wouldn't be enough left over for all of us - so we happily discovered the amazingness that is the new Pizza Hut pasta family dish things. Believe those ads where the chef fools people at the Italian restaurant and then says "ha ha you're eating pizza hat". Seriously - it's tasty.
Suddenly the actors and I found ourselves with free DAYTIMES. It was kind of amazing... we could have seen the sites and painted the town red if they weren't so wiped out that they were sleeping until 2:00pm :) However we did do some fun things...including a few afternoons when I decided to play with taking new headshots for the actors in our 'ever-popular-with-local-photogaphers' alley.
It was also around this time that I became acquainted with Ra Ra. Who, or what, is Ra Ra you ask. Is he, perchance, a relative of Jo Jo. Well - not quite. Although I'm equally cuddly. Katie - you see - has, since something like the age of two - had a cute adorable sweet little satin-esque? bunny rabbit that she slept with. Or rather - once...twenty years ago... it was cute adorable and sweet. Time has not been kind to Ra Ra. You know Dorian Gray's painting... well that painting is kind of the art-world equivalent of what has become of Ra Ra. Despite his decay, deterioration and possible collection of various diseases, Katie has affectionately (obsessively??) carried him everywhere with her since...she was two. He has been abroad. He has been to college. He has been to Hawaii. Ra Ra is so far past repair that if you try and fix him or stitch him up the fabric has become so delicate that the stitches just rip through. Seriously - to fix this guy you'd need the entire team the Smithsonian has working on Old Glory. And yet - it shows us all a soft, cuddly, vulnerable side of Katie that is so terribly endearing. And yes, just a little Norman Bates.
Another thing I haven't mentioned was the fantastic fact that ALL the actors families travelled to see them in shows this summer. Jordan's adorable mom and dad were DETERMINED to pitch in and help build the bar (when Jordan wasn't sitting on his Dad's lap to all our...delight?). His Mom seemed quite pleased with my ongoing crusade to turn Jordan into Mr. Butch onstage. Katie's Mom looks sooo much like it's bizarro - and she and Katie's grandmother managed to see the show like 12 times in two days! The Gallagher's arrived with a huge brood (Irish Catholic much) and decided to turn the entire event into a camping trip.
Luckily Colleen's dad also saw the war show, so that he was able to convince his wife that their daughter had not spent her ENTIRE summer having to shimmy her assets and act like a large black woman. Cuz I think she was a little concerned.
Of course - as the summer was drawing to a close, it wouldn't have been feasible to NOT have another Eckert shingdig. This time it was a belated Anniversary party for Larry and Margaret... who had a great deal to celebrate considering that Larry was...you know... not dead. So yet again out came the cake and the cake and the other cake and hey, how bout some cake? And Winnie's ham salad...and another insane demonstration of hospitality. It was a very sunny day, however... and I was jUST A LITTLE concerned that the actors might end up beet red as they frolcked on the lake.
And - after all this quality Eckert time - I think the true performance highlight of the season had to be during the final days of the entire summer when Island Fever had it's official Eckert Night. They didn't buy EVERY seat out - but it was pretty darn close. It was insane, and fun, and wild... it was just like performing for family. If you happen to have an immediate famiy of 12,402 people.
And then. Before we knew it. It was over. The last few days started to get very very sad. We'd all been through so much - especially with the mad bonding of redoing the whole warshow so quickly. The actors had truly felt that were part of this place now - and they knew that part of our future success was going to be due to the impression they had made and how hard they had worked. As the final night approached I started working on a short (me...short..hah!) speech that I wanted to give towards the end of the last performance, well aware that I probably might not even be able to get through the whole thing because I would be crying so hard. I didn't tell anyone I was doing it - because I figured Rich wouldn't LET me. So - I stayed up late the night before the final night - dashed off some thoughts - and had them secretly tucked in the back of my binder. Since it was the final night we luckily happened to have Margaret and Janice and Jean Anne hangin' out on the stairs (which we called the REALLY cheap seats) - as well and Cindy and the other servers. We had most of the key people. So when the time came I stood up and basically warned the audience that I felt since this was the end of our first season 'attention must be paid' - but I was probably about to completely fall apart and turn into a blubbering mess.... In fact I was so prepared for that to happen that I warned Jordan that he might have to actually read the end of the speech FOR ME if I couldn't talk anymore!
Which pretty much almost happened - the actors were crying... I was a gurgling snotty blubbering wreck... Margaret and Janice were crying. Apparently inside sources report that Cindy even got a little misty (up till now previously assumed to be biologically impossible). The audience gave us a standing ovation before I was even through speaking - which was pretty overwhelming. And by the time we got the point where I had to introduce final song - "Aloha Oi - or until we meet again" it was pretty rough on everybody - but they managed to get through it. And then... season one was done. Poof.
And - to cap off an amazing summer - the most surprising thing of all happened that night: Larry got in a picture. I love whatever the heck Madge is doing in this picture...
And then, the happy band headed out for a final meal together at the swankiest nightspot in town. Which, being Huntingotn after 8pm meant Applebees. Where, we happened to run into our biggest fan, Mayor Steve who wanted to make sure he got some pics with the actors before they left... Of course we were all delighted to run into each other and bounced right over to there table to take fun photos. Forgetting of course that Jordan was 19. Hence Jordan's caption for this picture...
Oops. We were only in there for like one minute honest. :)
And thus - with glasses raised high (full of soda only for Jordan and me) we toasted an incredible, unforgettable, insane and impossible to conceive eight weeks of magic, memories, mayhem and... LINENS.