In the Suburbs / "It's all about camaraderie"
Snacking on high carbs at Circle Diner after the spectacular performance of The Music Man at Ludlowe last Saturday night, we discovered ourselves in the midst of the cast party. While we were sitting away from the performers in a booth, we could feel the electricity. These drama club students were celebrating another great performance with the realization that 27 members of the club will be moving on to college or other things in the fall.
For us that evening, there were so many memorable moments in this performance, beginning with that magnificent railroad car scene where a group of salesmen, in rhythm with the movement of the train, talk about sales and the importance of "knowing the territory." The word "fabulous" would have been an understatement for the brilliant execution of one of the toughest numbers in the show.
Or the equally excellent rendition of "Pick a Little, Talk a Little" by the town ladies, where they sang while the barbershop quartet of school board members -- played by Randy Lallkissoon, Matt Zilinyi, Ryan Murphy and Reid Andren -- offset the ladies with "Goodnight Ladies." Those guys were tremendous. What harmony!
And the voices of the lead performers, Steve Autore and Jill DeGenaro were among the best in a musical production we've heard at Ludlowe. Autore was energized and mesmerizing as Professor Harold Hill and was as close to Broadway as one could get. And DeGenaro's beautiful renditions of "Goodnight My Someone" and "Till There Was You" were as touching as we've heard.
I wanted to especially recognize Caroline Cacciola, whose Eulalie MacKechnie Shinn and especially that hideous Grecian Urn Dance stopped the show, along with her terrific voice. Of course, we knew she was going to give a great performance, because Caroline's dad was her best PR agent and told us before the show how wonderful she was going to be. We sat in front of dad and the rest of Caroline's family, her greatest fan club.
Of course, we cried when the kids came out in their band uniforms at the end and saved Professor Hill from being tarred and feathered. That, followed by the powerful "76 Trombones," was one of the real high points.
I must also single out Alex Mollica, whose performance in 42nd Street and three other shows besides this one have been an amazing story of a young performer's growth. We've loved them all. His portrayal of Harold Hill's friend Marsellus was terrific, especially the Shipoopi number.
This show was dedicated to Kevin Cotellese, whom Fran Kondziela (Ms. K), the show's popular and wonderful director, referred to as Ludlowe's own "Music Man." And the orchestra, under its terrific conductor, Nick Albano, was absolutely terrific.
Now that I've raved, as I regularly do about this performance, I wanted to focus on what it takes to put one of these shows together and the tremendous camaraderie among cast and crew.
My wife and I have been so impressed with effort that goes on behind the scenes. After each closing performance, Ms. K brings everyone out on the stage and the audience just feels the camaraderie among cast and crew. It's electric.
She goes out of her way to be inclusive and it shows. There is such a rich diversity of cultures and backgrounds that one cannot help but want to be part of that team. I mentioned that to Fran when we saw her after the show.
"There is just something about watching the drama club in action that is special," I said. "It reminds me of my own high school days when I was part of the drama club," I said.
"That's so true," she said. "There is really no other organization in the school that has such diversity and such a range of capabilities as ours does. The Drama Club truly is a unique organization."
As a high schooler in Chicago, I remembered sitting through plays (comedies and dramas -- Chicago schools didn't have budgets to buy the rights to perform musicals back in the '60s), during my freshman and sophomore years and wanting to be behind the footlights. I was finally fortunate enough to have a drama teacher --- Mrs. Reiter -- like Ms. K in my junior year and she encouraged me to join the drama club and perform.
Our drama club was much smaller than Ludlowe's and the crews were also, but the camaraderie was there and my new friendships and Mrs. Reiter's positive influence lasted through graduation and into college. Even through four reunions, I've been able to rekindle those friendships and those of us who were in the drama club still laugh about the wonderful shows, wonderful times and crazy cast parties.
I only saw Mrs. Reiter at the first two reunions. I have no idea where she is today or if she is even alive, but I have a feeling she is. She was barely in her 30s when I was in high school.
I credit Mrs. Reiter for having one of the most profound influences in my life, just as I know that the Ludlowe Drama Club students would say the same for Ms. K. She was this quiet, soft-spoken force that still demanded so much from us on and off stage and we couldn't wait to deliver, performance after performance.
No one cheered louder when the curtain came down on a triumph and no one cried harder when a show didn't quite make it. Mrs. Reiter was always upbeat and always there for us.
That's why The Music Man and the other 12 hits that Fran Kondziela has directed since 2004, didn't just happen. They succeeded because of a synergy and a camaraderie among cast, crew and director that spreads throughout the auditorium during every performance.
And that, my friends, is what true show business is all about. And somehow, after last Saturday night, I too feel like a real a part of the drama club, because Ms. K has been so appreciative of my written support for these critical arts programs that must be retained at all costs! Amen!
Steven Gaynes can be reached at email@example.com.