I'm going to take a slight detour today and talk about a musical performance that I actually participated in. While at URI one of the great pleasures I got from the theater program there was appearing in the yearly musical. These were not your average teensy productions...we are talking big budget, meticulously prepared, designed, rehearsed, and costumed, extravaganzas.
In my URI years, I appeared as Jerry Tackaberry in 'How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying', James Throttle the Stage Manager in 'The Mystery of Edwin Drood', and finally, King Pellinore in 'Camelot'. My first year I didn't audition for the musical for some unknown reason and missed out on being onstage with my sister Sheila as Anne in 'Anne of Green Gables'.
Today's post will focus on one song performed in 'The Mystery of Edwin Drood'.
Now, the gimmick of 'Drood' is that it tells the story of an 1890's London music hall troupe putting on a musical version of Dickens' unfinished last novel. So each actor plays a music hall part and then a part from the novel, or several parts as the case may be. The novel gets told but filtered through the bawdy lens of a rowdy late-night vaudeville atmosphere.
To take things one step further, the audience chooses who the murderer is. Dickens died before completing the novel and left no definitive notes on the outcome.
I earlier said that each actor played two parts. Except for me. I played James Throttle the ass-kissing wimpy stage manager of the troupe. Our director chose to have me posted stage right (the audience's left!) throughout the entire show. The idea was that I troubleshot the various stage pieces that the fictional troupe had to pull off. I also was the assistant/valet for the narrator/emcee of the music hall.
I also functioned as a sort of 'applause' sign. If the scene was frightening, I was petrified. If it was melancholy, I was devastated. If it was angry, I was apoplectic. This turned out to be one of the more exhausting shows I've ever done because of this. I NEVER LEFT THE STAGE.
I also counted the votes. This is really where today's story begins...
When the troupe reached the hanging inconclusive end of Dickens' novel, a sort of chaos ensued. The troupe ran out into the crowd with chalkboards and virtually assaulted the audience. Girls in corsets sat in laps, men in tails kissed hands...all while culling opinions. If I remember correctly, actors had sections to chart. Row by row they would ask, "Who did it?"
All these chalkboards were then brought down from the seats to me. The orchestra, a strange 20 piece affair, vamped while I feverishly counted. And when I say I counted, I assure you, I really counted. We were not interested in rigging this election.
7 or 8 different characters were to be ready to sing the confessional song if voted the murderer. It was usually one of two people, the madman at the center of the narrative, or the woman he was in love with.
On the night in question, however, our audience had something else in mind.
As I counted the votes it became apparent that they, of all the audiences we'd had, thought that Bazzard had been the guilty party. Bazzard was a waiter. I can't even remember how he played into the narrative, but let's just say that he was pretty far out on the fringe of the story!
I notified the REAL stage manager who handled backstage traffic. Word was then spread somehow to whichever actor had to suddenly sing the 'I DID IT!' song.
Out came my friend David to confess to a crime he'd never dreamed he'd commit. Oh, sure, he was rehearsed, each actor who factored into the voting had to rehearse the singing of the song, but was he PREPARED??? He'd never come CLOSE to being voted the killer.
It's important at this time to remember that I am the only other actor on stage and I am NOT IN THE FICTIONAL WORLD OF THE PLAY.
He swooped out from backstage wearing the cape that figured into the tale. Things started out well enough. He had a murderous glint in his eye that made the audience's choice seem appropriate.
Then, and in my mind I even hear the needle stuck in the groove, he couldn't get off of the line 'As Datchery I did my bit!" This line explains how he could be Bazzard but disguised himself as Datchery to further his fiendish plot. He repeated the line 3 or 4 times while whooshing his cape around.
I realized that an actor's nightmare was in full swing right in front of me. And there was nothing I could do about it. As I said, I AM NOT IN THE FICTIONAL WORLD OF THE PLAY.
The orchestra immediately began to sound like a bunch of drunk Tom Waits fans trying to play 24 different versions of 'Jockey Full of Bourbon' on 20 different instruments. Violin bows zigged into cellists, hands fiddled with sheet music hoping to find where the hell this actor was in the song. I can't really articulate how funny all of this was.
Especially the orchestra. Frantic, playing who-knows-what, waiting for some sign of recognition, some hint that he might be able to move FORWARD instead of repeating the absurd line over and over.
As Datchery I did my bit.