“Can we go see it? Can we?” my daughter accosted me as I came through the door Friday evening.
She was waving a flier, and her words came tumbling out, one after another. “It’s a play at the high school. They came to Greenfields today to show us part of it, and Stefanie was in it! Do you think we can go? Can we?”
Ah, I thought. It’s high school musical time again. Apparently Libby and her classmates were treated to a preview. The high school kids had taken the show on the road, as it were, to drum up interest in the younger kids. And, if Libby was any indication, they really hit their mark. My daughter was already talking about cracking open her piggy bank to snag some tickets, determined to catch this year’s production of Me and My Girl.
And I was right there with her, checking our calendar to see if there was room in our schedule for an evening of high school theater. I hadn’t seen the preview, but I had the past.
You see, I am a high school theater geek. As a member of the West Deptford High School class of way back when, I was one of those kids who had a paragraph of activities listed under my name in the yearbook. Sure, there was student council and newspaper, soccer club and yearbook staff. But by far my favorite credits were those that noted my involvement in the school’s theatrical productions.
Not that I was ever the star. In fact, my first experience with high school musical theater came when I was a freshman. A bunch of my girlfriends decided it would be fun to sign up for the dance line in that year’s production of Funny Girl and I went along with the crowd. We had to learn the pony and dress in black turtlenecks and fishnets. What’s not to like?
And supposedly the director was someone direct from Broadway. The school paid extra to have him brought in special to direct the musical. (Yes, there was a budget for this way back when.) I didn’t get to work with him much, of course. He was busy with the seniors playing Fanny Brice (Diane Saloff, as I recall) and Nicky Arnstein (that would be Rick Dwight). He had no time for a nobody freshman dancer like me.
Until the day he did. He was directing a scene in which Fanny has just finished one of her first onstage performances and people were milling around her dressing room. He realized he had one line for “Person #4” that wasn’t assigned. “You!” the director declared, pointing in my direction. “Get in this scene and say this line.”
So that was my introduction to the WDHS stage. I stood behind Diane Saloff and said, “Well, he keeps on saying, 'I love Fanny Brice,' ” as best I could. I had no idea of the context of the line, as dancers were never given scripts and usually sat around the choir room until they were needed to shuffle-hop-step onstage. But I said it, and Diane turned to me and beamed in response. And I was hooked.
Of course, I gave my debut a truly dramatic turn a few days before the show opened. My mom was dropping me off for rehearsal, and as I left the car, she told me to break a leg. I turned and said, “Thank you,” then turned back and walked directly into one of those cement pillars in front of the entrance.
Yes, if you find a picture of the Funny Girl dance squad, I’m the girl sporting a shiner along with those fishnets.
But that didn’t stop my theatrical career at West Deptford. I did the plays every year—not just the musicals, but the dramas that Mr. Schramm directed in each fall and spring and the choir shows Mr. Carpenter put on annually. I even went on to study drama in college, before I realized that writing was a better fit.
In fact, one of my earliest bylines came via West Deptford theater. My best friend from high school recently sent me a copy of the Talon she had saved from our senior year. The headline story was the opening of Bye Bye Birdie. She was starring as Kim McAfee, and the article was written by yours truly.
I hope the cast of Me and My Girl will someday remember their days on the WDHS stage as fondly as I do. I hope they still feel the rush when the curtain rises, and they still feel the accomplishment as the auditorium fills with applause.
And I hope each one of them breaks a leg this week. Just watch out for the pillar out front.