Over the weekend I attended a musical theater cabaret at UC’s College-Conservatory of Music, featuring a selection of CCM alumni from the past two decades who have gone on to noteworthy careers on Broadway, touring and the cabaret scene. I could have written a whole column about the pleasures of that program, the culmination of the 40th anniversary celebration of the CCM musical theater program. But my subject is actually one prompted by cabaret singer Scott Coulter, a 1993 grad.
He paid tribute to CCM’s musical theater chair Aubrey Berg and remarked how important it is to go “back and back and back” to see how each of us came to be at this particular concert and this particular place and moment in time. He cited Berg’s influence as a teacher and mentor, then sang “For Good” from Wicked, a number about how seemingly disparate people can affect one another. He urged the audience to say thanks to people who influenced us. During Thanksgiving week, that was especially good advice.
When I was 8 years old, my grandfather, Arthur Pender, took me to see the musical Brigadoon. He was from England and thought we might enjoy a show about the magic of the Scottish highlands.
Even though it was an amateur production in my small northeast Ohio hometown, I was captivated by the magic of theater.
When I was 14, Mary Price, a high school drama teacher, came into a study hall and announced that she needed some boys for a production of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. I had portrayed George Washington in a fifth-grade play, but that was more about posing in a powdered wig and a Continental army uniform. Playing milkman Howie Newsome began my appreciation of live performance. For my four years in high school, I was constantly onstage. In college, I played Baptista, the father of Katherine, in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. My troublesome daughter was acted by Julie Taymor, who went on to fame as a director and artist, culminating in her work on the wildly successful stage version of The Lion King.
I married a woman who was a talented actress, and much of our life together focused on going to and being part of theaters. Our marriage didn’t last, but her onstage activity certainly affected me, not to mention our son, today a scenic carpenter and union stagehand in Chicago.
As a newcomer in 1980, my fourth night in Cincinnati was a trip to the Playhouse for a production of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. A few months later, I went to CCM and enjoyed the first season of “Hot Summer Nights,” a series that for more than two decades presented off-the-beaten-path musicals and plays.
In the early 1990s I wrote about theater for the Cincinnati newsweekly, EveryBody’s News, and then joined CityBeat as a freelance critic when it began publishing in 1994. Like Mary Price who enticed me onstage 35 years earlier, John Fox asked me to become the paper’s arts editor in 1998. Theater is now an integral part of my life.
I’m thankful to Mary Price and John Fox and all those others who pointed and enticed me toward something that has made my life so rewarding. They led me to CCM last Sunday and to many more emotional journeys that lie ahead. This Thanksgiving I urge you to think back about those who influenced the path you’ve followed. Tell them thanks.
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