Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Ville-The Final Curtain: Tribute

Saturday night, the Palace Showboat Theater sailed into history in grand and glorious style. The reunion was an overwhelming success from pretty much top to bottom. This sold-out event brought attendees from across the country, far and wide as they say (some wider than others as we soon discovered).
Arriving the day before prepared for the onslaught of even more familiar faces at every turn of that place. Sometimes it became tough to get my bearings when bombarded by some many people that I have known and loved (well, mostly) over the years and many I thought I never would be able to encounter again.

The renuion not only attracted former Palace Showboat Players, but some Ghost Town veterans, Chicken Kitchen employees and people who have supported this institution over the years that just had to make one last visit and share the love with the rest of us. As for myself, three former school teachers of mine, each of whom had coincidentally served some function at the theater over the years. Judy Caruso-Williamson, my very first drama instructor (and one of my favorite co-stars), Ed Carr, my senior art teacher who had painted sets for many productions and Lou Nardi, a man who was the closest thing to a mentor that I ever had. There were so many different people from various aspects of my life that I became torn and found I could only spend a short amount of time with some that I should have spent more. What can I say? I got caught up with the whirlwind.

Maximum occupancy be damned, we all filed into the auditorium to a series of makeshift tables, quite a change from the theater seats that had been pulled out when the Showboat closed to create a dance floor fro the country bar it later became. After dinner and much carousing, we all strapped ourselves in for the ride. After all, it was showtime, folks.

The extravaganza Ed Thorpe (heretofore to be referred to as Max) produced for the reunion pretty much summed up the whole Palace Showboat experience, reverentially I might add if the title Remembering the Best...Forgiving the Rest was any indication. Max designed this this show to be tribute to our beloved institution and to us all.
Cast of the orginal production of LA RUE'S RETURN

The melodrama fit perfectly into this format and actually went over quite well. I had no problem at all with any liberties they took with the piece. Why should I? Their additions seemed to work. I couldn't help but quote George S. Kaufman who, while he was backstage during a Marx Brothers play he wrote, quipped, "I think I just heard one of the orginal lines." Of course, back in the day, I would have kicked their asses for not performing the show "as wriiten" like I was Neil Simon Jr. This is despite the fact that I rewrote almost every script out there that didn't have my name on it.

The first big "Gulp!" moment when the tear ducts just opened up came early as the cast sang "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" as each presented our dearly beloved Goldie Pollard. In rather frail health in recent years, the "Mother of Us All" beamed like an angel as she proclaimed, "You came here as actors, singers, dancers, writers and directors and youa left here as stars..My stars." As I said, Gulp!
Following the melo were various vaudeville bits performed by the show cast specific to the Ville interspersed with a series of specialty acts by former cast members.

Julie Grider, one of the original cast members, favored us with a tune

Ray Rustigian and Phil De Angelo fractured and slayed 'em with their classic "Heckler" routine just as they had every night on that stage.

Kim Luke sang a hilariously bawdy song she had written herself in the grand tradition of the red hot mamas that were a Pollardville staple.

Bob Gossett played a touching acoustic version of "People Gotta Get Along Together", a song that musical director Marian Larson composed for the melo The Downfall of the Uprising.

Another Gulp! moment was the memorial video Bill Humphreys had masterfully pieced together as a salute to Palace Showboat Players who had since passed away. The footage of Vaudevillian Extraordinaire Ray Mello ("I gotta standing ovation from a bunch of midgets and didn't even know it!") and the original Red Hot Mama herself, Jeri Worth, just hit everyone where they lived.
The one and only Daddy Goose

Now this is where I came in. Yes, I had to follow what I so charmingly referred to as "The Death Parade" with a funny comedy bit. Oh, lucky me. I had to cut my first line "Look at all these familiar faces from my past. Am I about to die? It wouldn't be the first time on this stage." So for the very last time, I performed Daddy Goose, the piece that I performed at the Ville and what won me the stand up comedy competition. Now I never have to do it again. No. Don't ask me. Please. No really. Don't. Did I kill? Yes, I killed, right after The Death
Parade. Oh, sweet irony.

Soon after I finished, along came a very special guest star, our favorite son, Grant-Lee Phillips.
Just like the rest of us, he too returned to his point of origin, in his case, a launching pad for his incredible career that we are all proud of. Naturally, Grant not only sang, but surprised us all with a little stand-up, a mind reader bit that brought back memories of his, pardon the expression, wild and crazy side. What else stood about Grant's appearence was that this was the first he had performed anywhere in the area since hitting it big and that his brand new CD, Strangelet, was being released not days later.

As so often with a Palace Showboat show, the band kicked up a number , highlighted as always by a solo from the master of the drumsticks himself, Mr. Joel Warren. Just to give this night an extra kick in the ass, Joel revised his signature piece, playing the entire theater. His sticks rolled across the stage as emerged from the pit, just he used to, rapping and tapping as he went and working his way into the audience, hitting tables, bottles and even the hollow noggin of a certain Stockton Record employee. Joel then moved back to the stage, banging his sticks on anything and everything, disappearing behind the curtain until he emerged again at his rightful place at the drums. Fantastic.

The finale of the show began with the cast reading the name of each production and ending up with all-too famililar rendition of "Grand Old Flag", which, on the last note ends with the cast holding hands around the pit as the sound effects of bulldozers tearing the theater down is played. After 8 seconds of silence, Max stood forward and gave the final benediction while a mournful violin played "Ashokan Farewell" . Struggling to hold his emotions back, Max told the audience that this was indeed the last show of the Palace Showboat and Pollardville in general. He ended by saying that he had purchased the main red curtain from Neil Pollard. As his gift to every Palce Showboat Player, he proceeded to cut it in strips with a pair of scissors. The first tear of the curtain resonated throughout the house and it was right then and there, we had closure. We all lined up to get our own swatch of the red for ourselves, literally taking a piece of the theater home with us.
This grand gesture put an exclamation point on an evening filled with laughter, tears and so much goodwill. With this show, Max and everyone else involved in this production gave us the tribute we wanted and the tribute we deserved.

Gulp! indeed.

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