I am unashamed of my musical theater past. Am I afraid that my rock-god status will be altered forever when word gets out that I deftly executed a step-ball-change tap routine in 'How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying'? No. I'm proud to declare my undying love for musical theater and count these among the greatest concerts I've ever given.
Doth the lady protest too much? Probably. All I know is that there is nothing in the world like being part of an ensemble delivering a song in the midst of a musical. If you told me this morning that I would spend the rest of my life as a chorus boy I would celebrate. I only wish I'd taken dance lessons. I can fake it but I don't have dance chops.
In my sophomore year at URI, it was announced that we would be doing 'How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying'. I'd never heard of it. It is a lampoon of the office shenanigans of the 1950's. You know, lots of secretaries in short skirts and winks and nudges and cocktails and SEX.
The show requires a large cast of businessmen and their secretaries. Judith Swift, the director of the piece and a genius, always fills every second of her shows with ridiculous behavior. So although my character 'Jerry Tackaberry' has exactly ONE line, I was always in the middle of the action.
My sister Sheila played one of the secretaries. I don't think we've ever had as much fun in our whole lives together. I was the ass-kissing office outcast who tried WAY too hard to be one of the guys and she was the clumsy awkward girl with glasses who was eternally perplexed by the men in the office.
About three quarters of the way through the story, we shared a moment on stage which we guffaw about regularly to this day, 20 years later.
I'll get to that a bit later. First I want to discuss the shaving scene. The lead character sings a song to himself in the mirror while shaving at work. Judith had a frame built which looked like a series of mirrors. All 8 of us would stand facing the audience looking out from behind this frame. We had blocks of wood which had been fashioned to resemble old time electric razors, big and bulky. Part of the harmony in the song was us making buzzing sounds in unison. We choreographed every motion and did them all simultaneously. So the song is rolling along while 8 guys shave identically while looking in the mirror.
The gimmick is that he is admiring himself in the mirror and all of us HATE him for succeeding so quickly at the firm.
My character was such a suck-up that I was constantly smiling in an unnatural way. Eyebrow raised, lips curled and curled again top and bottom, cheeks pulled back as if I were in an air tunnel.
Jerry Tackaberry's philosophy was that if you laughed at what people said then you were CONNECTED! They would promote you! So even while I was angry in the shaving scene I was still smiling, as if my face had two expressions that were battling each other for control.
At a certain point in the film, the whole staff is called for a meeting. I wound up sitting next to Sheila's character, the two outcasts. Our boss J.B. is telling us a story to explain a point. It isn't that funny. But that is no obstacle to Jerry Tackaberry! He laughs so loud a lung almost pops out and he says, "You are a hot sketch, J.B.!"
Now for whatever reason, Sheila and I locked eyes right after I said this. And my face was in a horrible grimace of false humor. For a brief second we were Sheila and Brendan, not Jerry and Alice Krumholtz. We almost couldn't make it through the rest of the scene. I remember actively trying to kill the laughter that was lurking throughout my entire body.
On a related note, the giant skull splitting smile that I plastered across my face throughout the performance actually HURT. When the show ended my head was exhausted. Try it out and see how you do. Try the most exaggerated smile you can and hold it. FOR 2 HOURS.
That's rock and roll, people.