Tuesday, September 29, 2009

"A Magical Moment in the Theater"

It’s Toronto. I’m in my late teens.

My mother, my brother, his wife Nancy and I are attending a road company production of the musical, Carnival, a show based on the lovely, Leslie Caron-starring movie, Lili. On Broadway, Carnival starred Anna Maria Alberghetti. The Toronto production starred, I don’t know, Florence Henderson.

Instead of the immortal Jerry Orbach, who co-starred in Carnival on Broadway, the road company brought us Ed Ames, an Ames brother who played “Mingo” on the Fess Parker series, Daniel Boone. On Broadway, a featured role was played by the magnificent Kaye Ballard. We got Jo Anne Worley, from Laugh-In.

That’s touring companies. Their agent calls:

“I got you a job.”


“No. Toronto.”

What does the Toronto audience get to see? A cast full of disappointed actors.

But none of that matters.

The late teen me loves musicals. Unfortunately, Broadway’s in New York and I’m shoveling our driveway in Canada. The best I can do when the latest hit musical premiers is to buy the “Original Cast” album as soon as it’s available. And play it till it melts.

Then, maybe two years later, when the national tour plays Toronto, I go to that show, knowing the songs backwards and forwards. But particularly forwards.

And so it is with Carnival.

You’ve never seen the show. But you know it. And then you see it.

That’s the set-up.


We’re in our seats, me on the aisle. I can barely contain my excitement. The lights go down. The show is about to begin.

It’s the Opening Number. I know exactly what’s coming.

The curtain is up. The stage is virtually bare. The first sound you hear is a lone concertina, playing the introductory notes to Carnival’s enchanting, waltz-rhythmed theme, “Love Makes The World Go Round.” The orchestra joins in. At first, softly.

Roustabouts file onstage, and immediately set to work. To the accompaniment of an intensifying orchestration, the roustabouts take that bare stage and

…assemble a circus before our very eyes.

The opening song proclaims, with a rollicking announcement:

The circus is in town!!

Di-rect from Vienna

For se-ven days only

At po-pular prices

These won-ders of wonders

Whose da-zzle and daring

And (blah blah-blah blah)

Have astounded the capitals of Europe

And confounded the Orient as well.

And as the “setting-up” continues in full swing, the circus artistes begin polishing their talents – jugglers, acrobats, aerialists and clowns. The stage is swirling with activity, as they sing…


Come on

Mortgage your house and





Venice, Cologne,





Di-rect from Vienna

For se-ven days only

At po-pular prices

At this point, out of the corner of my eye, I notice my sister-in-law Nancy elbowing my mother, urging her to look at me. Turning to look, my family is astonished by an electrifying transformation. As I watch Carnival burst into glorious reality before me…

My face is aflame,

My eyes are on fire,

My mouth is agape,

I am entirely


And entranced.

I never worked in the theater. I climbed a different mountain. But I’ll tell you this:

Whatever I accomplished in television

It never left me aglow.

And you can forget about entranced.


Brian Scully said...

Boy, Earl, so many of your stories jog memories that I thought were long lost due to an unusually large consumption of Schlitz beer in the 1970s... and the memory you jogged loose today was of me in the mid-60's going to the Storrowton music tent in West Springfield, MA with my mother to see "The Music Man" starring... Mr. Darren McGavin! And you know, he wasn't too bad, as I recall.

Rinaldo said...

If it was indeed Florence Henderson, Ed Ames, and Joanne Worley, I would say that Toronto did very well with its tours. They were all terrific musical performers. (I saw Ms. Worley just a couple years ago in an all-star cast of Follies. She's still terrific.)

Same for Darren McGavin. He was in the very first musical I saw in NYC, The King and I, when my family was there to see the 1964 World's Fair, and Lincoln Center had just opened and was doing fancy summer productions of classic musicals. He made a highly effective (and musical) King, as anyone can check out because RCA made a cast recording and it's been transferred to CD.

Someone should write a book about all the interesting people who starred in touring and stock productions of musicals. Thanks for the memory, Earl.

Jon Delfin said...

So glad you enjoyed the show in spite of all of those disappointed actors.

Anonymous said...

Earl, you may remember my dad, (with whom you used to head 'em off at the pass), used to play in the O'Keefe orchestra for those touring Broadway shows. He said there were the 'bus and truck' companies and then, a few years later, the less flamboyant ' hoop and stick' productions. He was once playing one of these latter shows, I think it was 'Sweet Charity', and the book had been so mangled and abbreviated for the much smaller orchestra for this el cheapo tour starring the lovely Juliet Prowse, that many of the musical bits from the original show were totally missing. This did not stop him from including the parts he remembered playing from previous tours and the conductor, who travelled with the show, was moved to tears, as he heard the original phrases rise up out of the pit.
It's been 5 years today, actually, that he went to the big roundup in the sky and boy do I miss him. I'm sure he's a-smilin' down on you, his favorite sidekick and wishin' you well.

A. Buck Short said...

By the mid-sixties Ed Ames was probably known more as Daniel Boone’s Mingo that as one of the four brothers who skirted pedophilia with The Naughty Lady of Shady Lane and taught the world how to misspell R-A-G-G-M-O-P-P…Rag Mop. Hence the celebrated Tonight Show appearance, during which, in the process of demonstrating the art of tomahawk tossing, he nails the drawing of a sheriff square in the crotch. Said to have resulted in one of the longer episodes of sustained audience laughter on TV.

Carson wisely and silently vamped through nearly a minute of that, feigning occupation with the two axes he himself was holding; then getting another fifteen seconds out of “I didn’t even know you were Jewish.”

For whatever reason, maybe to avoid breaking character any more than he already had by appearing in a suit, Ames, who was in fact Jewish, never came back with an “Actually I am!!” The first sentence of his IMDb Mini Biography: Born Malden, Massachusetts on July 9, 1927 (real name Urick), Ed, Vic, Gene and Joe were sons of Ukrainian Jewish parents and four of nine children.

I only knew this as one of the few other JewIndians in America at our Native American film production company here in Dallas. Business card: Low Man/Totem Pole Division (honest). Hey, tribes is tribes, right? I had to pick one, Sioux, Micmac, Cherokee -- it was like a guild requirement. So I decided to rush the tribe of Benjamin, because although Judah had achieved a certain academic distinction and Zebulon had great keggers, I just kind of fit in better with Benjamin. They settled on the Indian name Smoked Whitefish, but my agent said that sounded a little too Jewish. So I had that quasi-legally changed to Pa-ho-ka-ta-witz which roughly translates “meteor that lands in seltzer.

And yet, I am tolerated.

Oh, BTW, mid-80s, Barry Nelson, Boston Schubert, road company of 42nd Street.

PS. WV: unssilla -- What Sarah Palin does when she leaves Alaska on her book tour.