Having been grievously disappointed by receiving a small part in the “Senior Show” production of “Peter Pan” (while my best friend got a huge part, leaving me to play his “right hand man”, no less,) I gallantly try to make the best of things.
In my fashion.
During the rehearsal period, my friend Shelly was a bundle of nerves. Unlike myself, he had never coveted a big part, and here he was playing Captain Hook, the second biggest role in the show after Peter, played by Wendy Krangle, who not only impressed us with her talent, but exposed us younger Seniors to many previously unknown obscenities, uttered while swinging precariously over the stage, sheathed in a constricting leather harness, as the befuddled stage crew stood helpless below, unable to lower her back to earth.
The melodies to Hook’s songs were notoriously tricky, and, though Shelly had a good ear, he had the darndest time mastering them. I, of course, was always available to demonstrate how, actually, “easy” the tunes were. That’s what pals are for, right? To reassure and assist. The nervous performer. Who had gotten the big part I wanted! And he was never even that interested!
Shelly’s predicament incensed and tickled me to death at the same time. Schadenfriende, I believe they call it.
(You know his father and his uncle owned the camp. Could getting Hook have been a case of rampant nephewtism? I mean, if I had been running that show and it came down to me or Shelly playing Hook, I would definitely have chosen me. I’d have been wrong. But I’d have been Hook.)
(Another semi-prominent role was the part of “Michael”, one of the Darling children who were enticed off to Neverneverland. This plum went to another friend, Ira, who had blond, tousled hair and was ideal casting for a fresh-faced English youngster. I did not begrudge Ira his good fortune, as I was aware of the rarity of finding a blond-headed actor at a Jewish camp. Besides, “Michael” has to fly, and I was certain, if I flew, I’d have thrown up.)
On show night, I was uncharacteristically calm. What did I have to worry about? I had a small part. I was Smee. Hook’s “butler.” Never speaking unless spoken to. Instantly responsive my captain’s desires.
I had two “moments” in the show, both in the same song – “Hook’s Waltz.” One was, when Hook sang, or more precisely “spoke-sang”, as an unsteady Shelly was permitted to do ala Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady,
“Captain of villainy
Murder and loot
Eager to kill any
Who say that his hook isn’t cute?”
and then viciously thrusts his hooked replacement hand into my face, I, as Smee, would coweringly respond,
The second “moment” occurs when Hook self-pityingly laments in his mid-song recitative,
“No children love me. I’m told they play at “Peter Pan” and the strongest always chooses to be Peter. They force the baby to be Hook. The ba-aby!”
I, as Smee, in my designated position – behind the Captain and two steps to the side – am required to blubber sympathetically over my Captain’s humiliation, starting with a breath-catching sob, building to a inconsolable wail, and topping it off with a trumpeting nose-blow into a flamboyantly colorful handkerchief.
There are no small parts, only small actors who cannot maneuver those small parts into show-stopping extravaganzas.
I had two things to work with – cowering and blubbering.
And I killed! Milking both opportunities into spontaneous applause.
Call it “Smee’s Revenge.”
Unprofessional? I imagine.
But, hey, they loved it!
My crowning satisfaction arrived after the show when Shelly’s aunt (the camp owners’ sister) insisted, “You stole the show!” Her reaction was enormously gratifying, though I would have been happier if she had not said that in front of her nephew. I’m a terrible person, but there are limits. I mean Shelly was my friend, and I knew how hard this had been for him. I tried to re-direct the praise. Sincerely. But in vain.
It is not an uncommon occurrence. It was The Andy Griffith Show, but it was Barney Fife who took home the Emmys. The show was Seinfeld, buy your eyes were on Kramer.
That night, it was Peter Pan.
But they could easily have called it,
Small parts definitely have their advantages.
Though I continue to prefer big parts.
And now, an acclaimed version of “Hook’s Waltz.” With the original cast. (You’ll just have to imagine me in the part. It is arguable I was better.)