Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Waiver Games, Part II: It Makes The Magic Happen

...second in a series regarding my experiences in Los Angeles Waiver Theaters, go here for part one...
During my senior year at Cal State Northridge I performed in a modern version of the ancient Roman comedy The Menaechmi.  The text had already served as source material for Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors and Rogers' & Hart's The Boys From Syracuse;  at CSUN, the piece was adapted for children and became The Twins
This college performance in The Twins was the antecedent of
my performance as Otto in Poof!.

I had a ball playing a bumbling sidekick to the villain of the piece.  My friend Ronnie Sperling was one of the stars of the show, and though we had both been performing throughout our college careers, this was one of the only times we worked closely together. 
Ronnie's in the red shirt, I'm on the floor in stripes.
I believe my performance in The Twins led directly to my second Waiver Theater production.
Our Roman
farce had
 Greek dancing.
Ronnie was involved with an off-campus performing company called the Camille Ensemble;  they were soon to acquire a children's theatre branch called the Prosody Players.  That offshoot was run by one of the finest human beings I have ever known, Kenny Michelson.  I did not know Kenny at this time, though I had worked with his sister Lisa at CSUN. 
Lisa Michelson (on the far left) and I knocked 'em dead in CSUN's Jesus Christ Superstar. She sang solo on "Could We Start Again Please," while I (on the far right) wowed the crowd as the Second Leper.

Poof was the second production
by Kenny's Prosody Players.

Shortly after I graduated, Kenny called me out of the blue, and asked if I would be interested in appearing in a new musical for kids, called Poof! . This phone call began one of the most enjoyable and rewarding theatrical experiences I have ever had.

Kenny and his partner had written Poof! for several particular actors, one of whom, my college chum John Dantona, was to play the role of Otto, the wizard's hapless apprentice. 
I directed John at CSUN, as El Gallo
in The Fantasticks.

If I remember correctly, John had lots on his plate at the time, and had to decline the production, and Ronnie, who was to play one of the comic roles in the show, suggested me as a replacement.  Poof! was a delightful little show, concerning the sprightly spirit that lives inside every magician's hat which makes "the magic happen."  The score was a perky gem, and I was blessed with what would probably be considered the 11 o'clock number, if one-hour children's shows had such things. 
This is a screen grab from a home movie made of
the original Poof! That's me in my big number.
The show was performed at The Company Theatre, one of the leading Waiver houses at the time, and we ran several months, on weekend days, and the occasional Friday night.
One of several raves we received from the critics.
We were all young and enthusiastic and grateful to be working in a professional setting; the show was a hoot, and performing in it provided a much needed respite for me.  After graduation from CSUN, I had allowed myself to be persuaded by convention and my parents that I needed a full-time job.  I was perfectly happy to continue my part-time work in the Sears Complaint Dept, but that was not going to cut it with the folks.  So, I allowed my father to put in a good word for me at Lockheed, where he was a pretty big muckity-muck.  I landed in an entry level, salaried position which most MBA grads would have killed to have, but I hated it from the first day.  Full time office work was just not my bag, but thankfully, I had my theatrical life at night to keep me sane.  For the first months of my gig at Lockheed, Poof! provided relief from the office doldrums.
I kept my double life secret from Lockheed, until this review popped up in the daily newspaper.
I was very sorry to see Poof! close.  The show itself went on to have several more productions without my involvement, but it holds a very special place in my heart. 
Tommy Tune, eat your heart out.

It was the only time I actually created a role in a brand new show in a Waiver Production.  I always thought the piece deserved a long life, and it probably would have had one, had tragedy not struck.  After surviving some severe health crises, Kenny stopped one night along the freeway, to help a stranded motorist.  Another car struck them from behind, and Kenny was killed.  It was a terrible tragedy which may not have happened had not Kenny been the caring and compassionate man he was. 
Kenny's sister Lisa, second from left, starred in
the second production of Poof!. In a terrible
bit of irony, she was also killed in a car crash.

I loved being in Poof! for many reasons, most importantly because it gave me the opportunity to meet and become friends with Kenny Michelson.  In spite of all his troubles, he remained a most enthusiastic, gentle, and optimistic soul.  It's been over 30 years since we worked together, and I still miss him.

My next foray into Waiver Theatre gave me the chance to work with my best friend, who remains so to this day.  Come back for Part III of The Waiver Games...