At a concert I once attended at Malibu’s Pepperdine College, Kristen Chenoweth, the Broadway superstar and, less successfully, the star of the short-lived NBC comedy series Kristin (on which I participated), performed the signature song of a famous musical comedy star from the past. And it turned out, that star of the past was present in the audience that night, and as Kristin popped her eyes and clapped her hands over her mouth in “Oh, my God!” ecstasy, amazement and surprise, the venerable entertainer stood up and took a bow, to thunderous adulatory applause. The audience gasped with excitement, thrilled to be present at an iconic “Show Biz Moment.”
Somehow – I can no longer remember how – it was related to me that the “Iconic Moment” had been a setup. Kristin knew the guy was in the audience, and that the entire “surprise” had been calculatingly arranged.
FLASH FORWARD TO: HOLLYWOOD BOWL, SUMMER, 2013.
Kristin Chenoweth invites a randomly selected woman from the Hollywood Bowl audience to come up onstage and sing a duet with her. The woman, Sarah Horn, a California vocal coach, then proceeds to blow everyone away with her polished and confidently sung rendition, complete with, as a shell-shocked Kristin observed after a particular performance highlight, “Holy crap. Harmony.”
The next day, I checked it out on YouTube. Sarah Horn’s skillful and self-assured presentation brought tears to my eyes. Several times. (It was quite a long duet.) I, of course, recalled the earlier Pepperdine College concert manipulation – in Law & Order: SVU, they call this evidence of “Prior bad acts, demonstrating a pattern” – and you know what I decided?
I decided it was real.
Maybe I’m just and old softy. A “non pro” stepping up in front of thousands of people and slamming it light years out of the park? Maybe I not so secretly pine for the old show business, where talent was King – or Queen – and where, at the end of every show, standing in a pool of light, his trenchcoat draped over his shoulder and his hat clapped firmly on the top of his head, Jimmy Durante warbled his trademark “Goodnight”, finishing with, “…and good night Mrs. Calabash…wherever you are.”
It was hokey, but it seemed heartfelt. You don’t get “heartfelt” in show business anymore. The audience got too cool for that. Now the closest thing to “connecting” is an ironic conspiratorial wink.
Warms the cockles, doesn’t it?
Who knows what happens next for Sarah Horn, though “Show Biz History” predicts something. As a writer, my preference would be to script it otherwise. Though hardly a big crowd pleaser, I am partial to the “one brief shining moment they can’t take that away from me high point of my life and what could ever be higher” scenario.
I am aware that walking away is hardly realistic. “Conventional Wisdom” says “Cash in.” But that would be, as the phrase aptly describes, conventional. The publicity-infused rise, the ill-advised decisions fueled by tempting opportunity and ill advisers, followed by the inevitable return back to earth. A mundane and “Been there, done that, saw the movie and hated it” cliché.
The first-time revelation on that Hollywood Bowl stage, by contrast, was – and would always be –
And then the writer noticed something writing this. He noticed that, to a writer, even one who strives to chronicle things “as they are”, the essential elements of a situation are in fact malleable “Nutty Putty”, neutral raw material, ready to be reformed into any shape the writer sees fit, and communicating any message they are determined to immortalize in print.
The Sarah Horn incident could easily have been another setup. But I, the writer, arbitrarily pretty much, decided to believe it wasn’t. Sarah Horn will probably make the jump into show business, and who knows what from there? But my sincere hope is she won’t, because, as a seventies song once said,
“That’s the way I like it.”
What occurred is a wake-call I require now and then. I tell stories and claim, “This is it.” It’s not, actually. It’s reality filtered through own personal my lens, an actual event, re-envisioned through my sensibilities, my interests and my desires.
In the case of Kristin’s random Hollywood Bowl selection, I want to believe it’s real. And Sarah Horn’s yet to be told story, I prefer it to be “One and, memorably, done.”
I do not control reality.
Except when I’m writing about it.
Making me – Full Disclosure:
(Using reality as an inspirational springboard.)