Good Things Come in Small Packages

Morse Recital Hall in Sprague Memorial Hall is a beautiful concert space. Over the past few years, I have seen countless performances in the hall.  Everything from world class String Quartets in the popular Oneppo Series, student recitals from the Yale Music Department, Savion Glover (who played to a packed house) and the Yale Opera’s scenes which they present in early fall, to highlight some of the operas they will be working on during the school year.

It is a beautiful space, but it is generally little more than serviceable when used as a theatre setting. This is why the Schubert Theatre is used for the company’s big productions, like this year’s delightful Cosi Fan Tutte.  But this weekend, when Yale Opera performed a double bill of William Walton’s The Bear, and Darius Mulhaud’s Le pauvre matelot, the concert hall was transformed into a THEATRE, where these two short operas were as stunning visually as they were aurally,  and that is no small feat.

Dustin Wills, a New York based director and graduate of the Yale School of Drama, and Projection Designer, Johnny Moreno, who is a second-year Master of Fine Arts degree candidate, also at Yale, gave this concert hall a brilliant injection of real drama,  depth, and movement, and the hall never looked better.

The Bear

Is there anything better than really liking someone, only to find out that they also possess real talent? Mezzo-Soprano, Alexandra Uruquiola, with whom I have had the privilege of getting to know this past year, was hilariously neurotic as Madame Yeliena Ivanova Popova, who has locked herself away from the world for the past year to mourn her philandering husband, whose gigantic portrait hangs in the dining room. over an absurdly long dining table.  The table appears to be perpetually set formally,  although the only person to eat at the table is the Madame herself, who wishes to see no one…ever.

Her manservant, Luka, played deliciously by Stephen Clark, informs the Madame that she has a visitor, and although she refuses to see him, Grigory Stephanovitch Smirnov barges in anyway, as he intends to retrieve a debt the deceased husband owed him.

Bryan Murray was dashing as the intruder, Smirnov,  and his lyric Baritone was, as usual, stunning. I have heard Mr. Murray in several concerts, and, as I sing with the Yale Camerata, I have had the pleasure of rehearsing and performing with him in Carmina Burana and Robert Kyr’s Transfiguration this past year.  His voice is gorgeous, and his high notes are seemingly effortless.

Alexandra Urquiola was utterly brilliant as the Madame.  There is a very good actress in that tiny little woman, and she looked like a million bucks in her glamorous, mourning black. She pouted, she scolded, she had a few tantrums, and she shot off a gun, but she fell in love with Smirnov anyway, and frankly, who wouldn’t? Although a short one-act opera, her part is full on singing from start to finish, and she sang as beautifully as she looked.

Alexandra Urquiola

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Bryan Murray and Alexandra Urquiola

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Alexandra Urquiola and Bryan Murray

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Le pauvre matelot (The Poor Sailor)

Projections offer a designer and a director such great options, especially when the theatre does not naturally lend itself to dramatic productions. and when it is short of wing space.  Johnny Moreno’s projections in Le pauvre matelot were so well done, and so dramatically filled out the space on the Sprague stage, that I almost forgot where I was. That little Sprague box was given depth, and life in a way that I never would have thought possible. I was gobsmacked.

The lighting, brilliantly designed by Doug Harry, brought the audience to a strange and dismal place.  Mr. Harry hails from the United Kingdom, and  is also the Production Manager of this year’s Festival of Arts and Ideas.  That alone makes me even more excited about the festival than usual.

The beautiful Natalia Rubis and Dean Murphy, who have never sounded better, were fearless in their portrayals of The Wife and The Friend. Natalia has a wonderful, expressive face, which was, from time to time, projected quite enormously on the back wall of the stage. Dustin Wills cleverly staged much of the action in both operas on table tops. Once again, the Sprague stage, which is so very suitable for concerts, does not make it easy for the audience to see any action that takes place on the stage itself, so the use of the table’s height was very smart and quite effective.

Lucas Van Lierop was terrific as the Sailor who returns from the sea, only to play a trick on his wife, sadly, to his own demise. Mr. Van Lierop is another excellent singer with whom I am familiar through his concert work. His murder, carried out by the clueless and tragic Wife, was brilliantly told through both projections and the live Ms. Rubis, who carries out the murder, as if she is in a trance.  Here is another excellent singer with credible acting chops.

Sadly, this wraps up the Yale Opera season for this school year, but I so look forward to seeing many of these fine artists return next year, and anxiously await what is in store for the 2017-2018 season.

Natalia Rubis in La pauvre matelot (The Poor Sailor)natalia.jpg

Catch a Rising Star and Put her in your Memory Bank

Back in the 1970s, I attended a Yale Rep performance. I cannot remember what I saw. I cannot remember what the show was about. But when I left the theatre, and for weeks afterwards, I could not stop thinking about a certain actress in the play. People were talking about her from the moment the curtain came down, and everyone seemed to agree that this woman had a brilliant future ahead of her.

A few years later, I tuned into a mini series called Holocaust, and there she was. There was that actress who had so filled the audience with collective awe. I remember literally jumping up and down that I had found her again; this actress named Meryl Streep.

The absolute certainty that you have found a burgeoning star is a rare and wonderful thing. You have been given the opportunity to see someone before their name has widely circulated. You have found that needle in the haystack.

In the documentary, I Knew if was You, which is a loving tribute by some of America’s finest actors to the brilliant John Cazalle, with whom Streep had a relationship until his early death to cancer shortly after the filming of Deer Hunter,  Al Pacino speaks of the time when his good friend Cazalle told him he had just seen the most brilliant actress who ever lived. Pacino was certain that Cazalle was overly excited about a woman with whom he was falling in love. Pacino admitted, “Turns out he was right.”

I realize that it is unlikely that I will see another Meryl Streep in my lifetime. But there are stars out there. And at Yale, the Rep is not the only place you can find them.

Stars of the Future/Opera at the Schubert/Cosi Fan Tutte

The Yale Opera Company took over the Schubert Theatre again this past weekend for its production of Cosi Fan Tutte. Having so thoroughly enjoyed its past offerings of Midsummer Night’s Dream (2016) and Marriage of Figaro (2015), I was very excited to see this production. I am also a Mozart junkie. Like the previous operas, it was exceptionally well done. and well attended.

Yale double casts its operas, and I chose to go to the Sunday matinee because  Zachary Johnson played Guglielmo for the Friday and Sunday performances. I have had the pleasure to get to know Zach a bit since I first saw him in scenes performed at Sprague Hall at the beginning of the 2015-2016 season, and he also played Snug in Midsummer Night’s Dream, which was performed at the Schubert in 2016.

Zach is a graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music (my old school) and joined the Masters Degree Program at Yale in the fall of 2015. He has an easy and warm baritone, with exceptionally beautiful high notes, and he is delightful to watch. He has great comedic timing but can pull out drama when needed.  I admit that I was hoping that Yale would use him in a production of The Magic Flute, because I would love to see him as Papageno. Perhaps I will get that chance; if not at Yale, than perhaps in an opera company, for I feel certain that Zach will be snatched up by someone before too long.

Earlier this year, also at Sprague,  I saw Anush Averisyan play Thais in a scene from Thais, and Tatyana in a scene from Eugene Onegin. She is gorgeous; both to look at, and to listen to. I was very excited to see how she would handle a Mozart piece, as I did not get the sense that she would have the fluidity of pull off the arias of Fiordiligi, and I am delighted to say I could not have been more wrong.

When the curtain came down on Cosi, my theatre companion and good friend, Doug, turned to me and said, “She is a star.  She is going to be a huge star.”  And I quite agree. Mind you, I noticed that Doug could not take his eyes off of her when we watched her perform the scene from Thais last fall, so I was not surprised that he loved her in Cosi. But then again, how could one not?

Ms. Avetisyan has it all. She is beautiful, she is smart, and she is a very committed and honest actress. The drama and intensity she brought to the Massenet and Tchaikovsky scenes were as riveting as the comedic timing  and vocal precision she gave us in the Mozart.

The entire production was terrific, although the costumes for Guglielmo and Ferrando when they are playing the Turkish men were a bit silly.  Otherwise however, the show looked great. Natalia Rubis as Despina was hilarious and she sang beautifully as well.

While I certainly hope that all these wonderful singers have brilliant careers, for they certainly deserve it, I intend to pay particular attention to Zach and Anush.  They have that special thing that sets them apart from others, and gets them noticed.

What a joy to watch.

A Hollywood Picture/No Hollywood Ending

For the past few weeks, I have been listening to friends of mine from the performing community argue about La La Land. Some say they LOVE it. Others were annoyed by the fact that the lead roles were not played by actual musical theatre performers. And others, like me, were just not moved.

Call me crazy, but when I go to see a musical, I expect music. I expect memorable music. Over the years, Stephen Sondheim has been ridiculed by harsh critics for not composing “hum-able tunes.” He even wrote a song about it for Merrily We Roll Along. Hum-able is not necessarily a compliment. Sondheim songs are hard. They are musically complex, and so are his impeccably written lyrics. But Sondheim songs do what they are supposed to do. They move the story, they give us insight into the mind of the character, and they move us in often very profound ways. And one more thing; they are also very beautiful. While they might not be hum-able, they are unforgettable. La La land’s music is delicate, pleasant, and entirely forgettable.

In many ways, this film reminded me of the The Actor, which won so many awards years ago, and then was promptly ignored. I rather feel that the same might happen with this piece. Like The Actor, this film deals with people in the business of entertaining, and the inevitable angst that goes along with suffering for your art. Writer/Director Damian Chazelle, who also wrote and directed Whiplash, clearly likes to write about the pain and suffering of gifted artists. He grapples with serious issues that artists encounter; harsh criticism, heartless people in powerful positions, relationships that must be shared with the artist’s devotion to his/her art, jealousy, you name it. The characters in La La Land did not have to literally bleed, as the young jazz musician did in Whiplash, but this movie offers no Hollywood ending like Singing in the Rain. Mind you, this picture also does not have a string of memorable, iconic song and dance numbers like Singing in the Rain does either. More’s the pity.

Although I did not care for her first few film performances, Emma Stone has grown on me over her last few films, especially her performance in Birdman. I have always been impressed with Ryan Gosling’s work ever since I saw him in the 2001 film Believer. He is charming in this, and so is Stone. Her huge, expressive eyes made the audition scene heartbreaking and excruciating. They have a lovely chemistry. Their singing and dancing skills are slightly better than you might see at a Junior High School musical, but then, as I already mentioned, the music is so lackluster, they were not given much to work with.

But let’s not forget that this is not NY NY, this is LA LA. And I don’t mind that they are not superb singers and dancers since they are both superb actors. And now I have opened the kettle of fish that is at the centre of conversation with my circle of theatrical friends and colleagues.

Whenever an actor, who is known only for straight, non-musical roles, sings and/or dances, the audience is often full of praise, adoration, and even shock. The idea that Christopher Walken can DANCE is still being discussed, even though he danced in Pennies From Heaven more than thirty years ago. People were astounded that Anne Hathaway actually sang in (the utterly terrible film) Les Miz. When Hugh Laurie put out an album of blues songs, people called him a genius. (He not only can speak with an American accent, he can play the guitar and SING.)

I can’t tell you how many times I have had a conversation with someone about my years performing in opera and musical theatre, and they ask, “Have you ever acted?”

Really?

Is it impossible to imagine that actors who sing are still actors? Why is there so much respect for “straight” actors who can handle music but so little for singers and dancers who can develop a character and tell their story? The fact that sometimes the character is singing or dancing does not mean they are doing that outside of defining their character and their place in the drama. The singing and dancing is part of the language they are using to bring that character across.

So, while I am not one of the people who is angry that the main characters in La La Land are not Broadway musical performers, my disappointment in the film is not connected with that. Ironically, J.K. Simmons, who won an Oscar for his performance in Whiplash and has a small, non-singing part in La La Land, DOES have a resume that includes Broadway musicals. But since most people are only familiar with his film and TV work, I am sure one day people will be shocked and delighted to find out that he can SING!

And here he is:

Starry, Starry Night

Meteor Shower, by Steve Martin,

Long Wharf Theatre, New Haven, CT

 

Steve Martin is a genius.

Martin’s stand-up comedy, as daring and edgy as it has been throughout the decades, has never been unkind, or cynical. He never shakes a finger at his audience, preferring to treat us with respect. Unlike many comics, he figures he can be honest and funny without putting us in an uncomfortable position. This doesn’t mean he provides us with  watered down content, it just means he gives us intelligent funny without making us squirm.

If his stand-up was all he gave us over the years, that would be plenty. If he had only provided us with unforgettable characters in films like, The Jerk, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, and Pennies From Heaven, we would be grateful for his contribution.  If he had simply been a terrific banjo player, screenwriter, staff writer, essayist, and author, that would be impressive enough. But lucky for us, he decided to also write plays.

I call him a genius, not simply because he has done so many things, but because he has done all those things, WELL. Really well. He earned his first Emmy for his writing on The Smothers Brothers Show in the late 60s. He won his five Grammy awards for comedy AND Bluegrass music, and he received an honorary Oscar in 2013. His musical, Bright Star, which he co-wrote with Edie Brickell, garnered three Tony nominations just last season.

His play,  Picasso at the Lapin Angile, which puts Picasso, Elvis, and Einstein in a quaint Paris bistro was very well received last season at The Long Wharf, and now we are treated to the time bending, Meteor Shower. Martin was present throughout the rehearsal process for both of these plays.  How lucky are we here in New Haven to be close to a theatre that is close to him?

On an evening when a Meteor Shower is expected, a couple arrives at the Southern California home of another couple, who punctuate their relationship with encouraging, pat phrases learned from self-help books and hours of marriage counseling. The phrases are recited while they hold hands, and look directly into each other’s eyes.  The visiting couple arrive with an eighty dollar bottle of wine and three eggplants wrapped in a bow.  The lives of the couples are poked and prodded by celestial activity, and when one meteor,  showers into their backyard, time and space become hilariously altered. Do-overs are possible, eighty dollar bottles of wine are reduced to a four buck bottle of swill, and an odd number of eggplants doesn’t seem like a silly gift, after all.

This is a wonderful cast. Patrick Breen (Galaxy Quest, Show me a Hero) is delightful in his deadpan. Arden Myrin’s seemingly helium-induced voice is charming as the quirky Corky. The visiting couple is played by Sophina Brown and Josh Samberg.  I have been enjoying Samberg for the past two seasons in The Affair on Showtime. His arrogance and bravado in the first act is replaced with uncertainty and lack of confidence in the second, and he is a joy to watch.

The Long Wharf season, once again promises to be stellar.  This kicked it off beautifully.

Dinner and a Movie/Brooklyn

Movie-Brooklyn

The novel Brooklyn by Colm Toibin was beautifully adapted for the screen by Nick Hornby to excellent reviews and three Academy Award nominations; Best Picture, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Eilis is a young, intelligent woman living in a small town on the coast of Ireland in 1952.  Seeing that her prospects are minimal, her loving, older sister arranges for Eilis to immigrate to Brooklyn to start a new life. Helping her in the process, is an Irish Priest, played by Jim Broadbent. The Priest sets her up with a job at a high end department store, and finds her a place to live in a women’s boarding House, run by another fellow immigrant, played gorgeously by Julie Walters. (Rumor has it the BBC is planning a TV series about this boarding house with Walters playing the same part.)

Despite acute homesickness  and a cultural learning curve, Eilis thrives in Brooklyn, and meets a sincere  Italian-American plumber, who frequents Irish socials because he just “loves Irish girls.” Eilis and Tony Fiorello begin a serious relationship, and soon Eilis is even more important to Tony than the Brooklyn Dodgers.

A family emergency forces Eilis to return to Ireland, but she makes it clear that she intends to return to her life in Brooklyn after the visit. It is here that Eilis’s choices become difficult, as she sees more possibilities in her visit back than she did when she lived there. These choices are made more complicated by the fact that she has also meets a hometown boy (played by Domnhall Gleeson, son of actor Brendon Gleeson) and feelings begin to develop between the two, much to the delight of her mother, and the boy’s family.

Saoirse Ronan (Attonement, The Lovely Bones) is utterly delightful in the role of Eilis, she is also very beautiful.  At the age of only 22, she has a very impressive resume, and it is easy to see why.  I find her one of the more interesting women of her age group, and I look forward to watching her grow over the next few years. Brooklyn is the second film for which she has received Academy Award nominations, the other was for her work in Atonement. She has also received three BAFTA nominations, and experienced her first Broadway season this year in The Crucible.

The film is an Irish/Canadian co-production, and is beautifully filmed, for the most part, in Ireland, with a few New York locations. It is currently available on DVD, and is, of course, available on demand.

 

 

 

Dinner:

As you can see from the trailer, Eilis is a guest at the family table of her new boyfriend, Tony Fiorello. She receives tutoring in the art of tidy spaghetti eating from her fellow boarding-house mates.   So, in putting together a menu for a post or pre-dinner screening of the film, I was torn between presenting an Irish menu, or an Italian one.  But Brooklyn is a melting pot, so I think I have come up with a hybrid menu that should cover both rather nicely.

Pre-dinner Libations:

In 2006, a bar opened in Brooklyn serving a Pickle Back cocktail. Some people tell me that this cocktail has been around longer than 2006, but I have not yet seen evidence of this. For those of you who have never been to Brooklyn, let me just say that pickles are taken seriously in the delis of this New York borough.

Here is the very simple recipe:

One shot of Irish Whiskey (Jamison or Bushnell’s preferred)                                                           One shot of pickle juice.                                                                                                                                   You can just take some juice from your favorite jar of pickles, however, if you can’t stand the thought of your jarred pickles swimming without the aid of it’s delicious liquid, a company named, Van Holten’s offers bottles of pickle brine specifically for this cocktail.  Otherwise, just save your pickle juice from your empty dill pickle jars, and strain the juice through  a wire mesh. This just gives you a legitimate reason to eat more pickles.

Appetizer:  Asparagus with Parmesan cheese

In a shallow pan, boil around 2 inches of water, and gently add the asparagus and cook for around 3 minutes.

Take asparagus out, dump the water, and put the asparagus back in the pan with a generous amount of butter.  Once butter is melted, plate the asparagus, and top with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.  Place in front of guests, and feel good that your appetizer is, at least a little, healthy.

Main Course: Guiness Beef Stew

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 boneless beef chuck roast (2 to 3 pounds)  You can also use a small, bonelss lamb shoulder
  • 2 medium onions, sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 Bottle of Guinness 
  • 1/2 Cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • Fresh Thyme
  • 8 Red Bliss Potatoes
  • Salt Pepper
  • 2 medium carrots, sliced
  • 2 cup water
  • Salt and Pepper
    1. In a Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Brown roast on all sides; remove from pan.
    2. In same pan, heat remaining oil. Add onions and garlic; cook and stir until tender. Deglaze pan with the Guinness (scrape up all that good stuff on the bottom of the pan)  Stir in mushrooms, brown sugar, . Return roast to pan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, covered, 1-1/2 hours.
    3. Stir in remaining ingredients. Return to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, covered, 15-25 minutes longer or until meat and vegetables are tender.

     

    Now would be a good time to start the movie.

    Fear not, for I did not forget dessert. I have just decided to provide an easy dessert that can be eaten on a comfy chairs and couches, while we watch the movie.

    Dessert: Unbelievably easy Cannoli Dip:

    Package of Wonton Wrappers cut in triangles

    Canola Oil for frying

    1/4 granulated sugar, mixed with a 1/2 a teaspoon of cinnamon

    Filling:

    3/4 Cup Ricotta Cheese, strained, over-night through a cheesecloth and squeezed dry

    3/4 Cup of Mascarpone Cheese

    1/4 Cup Powdered Sugar

    1/2 teaspoon Vanilla

    Small bag of mini-chocolate chips

    Pinch of Salt

    Beat with mixer until smooth. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours

    Heat oil in pan to 350 degrees. Put no more than 4 triangles in the oil, until they brown slightly and firm up. Dry on a paper towel, and  gently sprinkle plain sugar and cinnamon mixed together over the wrappers.  Working in batches. These certainly can be made ahead, as you will be serving them at room temperature, however, do not do this step the night before as they might get stale.

    Assemble individual plates, with some cannoli chips, and two ramekins; one filled with the filling, and one filled with mini-chocolate chips.

    Start up the movie, and end the evening with Irish Coffee, or some more Irish Whiskey without the coffee.

    Happy Viewing!

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Jay/A better Obituary

(I was given an assignment to write a “better obituary” for a loved one. One that would speak more clearly and honestly than the usual ones you read in the paper.  I have submitted this about my brother.)

Jay Van Cott

Jay Van Cott died in his Dallas condo on July 4th, 2000, just shy of his 50th birthday.  Mr. Van Cott chose to celebrate the Independence Day weekend, by declaring his own independence from this earth, via suicide.

Mr. Van Cott was born in Hartford, CT in 1950, attended Branford High School, and graduated Suma cum Laude from Connecticut College with a double major in History and Art History.  He left behind approximately 3,000 hard cover books, all of which he read, a closet full at least 200 heavily starched business shirts, and somewhere around 1,000 silk ties. He also possessed a brilliant mind, a voracious appetite for knowledge, impeccable taste in art, and a sister who adored him.

His sister recalls that when they were young, he made a list of Academy Award winners in three categories; Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Actress. He called this list, his “Oscar Roster.” He made his sister, who was two years his junior, memorize the list, and he quizzed her regularly. On one occasion, he woke her up in the middle of the night, and said, “1961, Best Actress. And I will give you extra credit if you name the movie she won it for.” After she answered Elizabeth Taylor for Butterfield 8, he kissed her and told her he had the best sister in the world.

On a good day, Mr. Van Cott was the most charming person in the room. He was well read, naturally curious, and charismatic, so he could hold court on virtually any subject.  People leaned in to hear what he had to say. On a bad day, he could be quite cruel.

He was born at a time when homosexuals were encouraged to keep their sexual identity to themselves, so he became adept at lying about girlfriends that did not exist, and even fabricated a story about marrying his high school sweetheart to keep his elderly neighbor in Dallas entertained. Years of pretending to be something he was not took its toll on him, and his once handsome face was replaced with an ever present sneer.  His beautiful blue eyes, became dark and empty, and his laughter, which was once so readily available, was silenced.  Even his sister, whose job it was to keep him laughing, could no longer succeed at bringing it forward.

For over thirty years, Mr. Van Cott wrote in a daily journal. His handwriting was beautiful to behold, but nearly impossible to read without the aid of a magnifying glass. With the exception of the last month of his life, his daily entries were entered into large, leather-bound blank books, written with finely crafted pens. His final month’s submissions were found on loose leaf paper kept in a weathered, grey, three-ringed binder, and written with a Bic ballpoint.  The last sentence of his last journal, written, after what appeared to be, two solid days of no food or sleep, cup after cup of coffee, and several packs of cigarettes smoked down to the filter, offered no specific reason as to why he would then hang himself;  just that he felt he had to, before it was, “Too late.”

Jon English 1949-2016/Hurrah for the Pirate King

It is hard to lose a member of your tribe.  Learning of Jon English’s passing this week, was a stunning reminder that we are not as young as we used to be, and that all those people we have loved and cherished for so many years, are not going to be around for ever.

My ten years in Australia were the happiest of my life. I bounced from one show to the next, and spent my time on stage and off with some of the most intelligent, funny, loyal, talented, crazy, fun, loving people I have ever known. They were my family, and I loved my family.  I still do.

My first day of rehearsals for Pirates of Penzance was like any other first day of rehearsals. It feels very much like your first day at school; you are excited to begin a new adventure, and your optimism is tempered by a healthy dose of insecurity.

I usually play it safe on the first day.  I lay low. I sing with confidence but not bravado, I study the script and the score with a serious look on my face, and I am friendly and obliging with the other kids on the playground.  I don’t know what prompted me to do what I did not that first day, but somehow I felt I could get away with it with this new group of colleagues.

During this time, there were a series of ads on TV, for a company that renovated kitchens. The ads showed actual customers giving testimonials about their new kitchens, and talked about how the “chappies” left the place neat and tidy upon completion. The kitchen, in our rehearsal space, was rather spiffy, compared to what you usually see in rehearsal facilities, and I somehow plucked up enough courage to do an elaborate improv, giving a similar testimonial in a broad Australian accent, which ended in me saying that all it cost me was my first born, male child.  To my relief, it was rewarded with laughter from everyone but Jon.  Jon just stood there, nodding his head, and said with startling seriousness, “You are funny. You are very fucking funny.”

Pirates was a great show. The audience loved it, the critics adored it, and no one had more fun during the show than we did.  Jon, large in physical stature as well as legend, was our Pirate King on and off the stage.

The producers of the show were not the most generous I have ever worked with.  In fact, there were times when they were just downright cheap.  When we were told that we would receive no discount for any of the show memorabilia that they sold at the box office, Jon bought every cast member a T-Shirt. More than once, when attempting to pay a tab at the theatre bar, we were told Mr. English took care of it.

Since Jon and I both lived west of downtown Sydney, during our Sydney season, Jon picked me up on his way to the theatre, and also drove me back home. During this time, I was having relationship difficulties with the man I was living with, and Jon frequently provided me with a shoulder to cry upon when I needed one.

But there was also much laughter. One incident in Perth stands out particularly, when four of us were having breakfast in a local greasy spoon.  The owner of the restaurant was a big fan of Jon’s and he kept bringing us more food than we ordered, and would not stop, even though Jon begged him to do so.  At one point, he came over to the table with a massive box of baklava. The four of us laughed so hard, I spit my tea out of my mouth onto the wall of the booth.  I will never forget the look on Jon’s face as he screamed, “Tea is coming out of your nose!”  Another huge wave of laughter overtook us as we took in that information.  We could not even finish the food we HAD ordered, we were laughing so hard. The laughter only slightly subsided when we realized we had been charged for all the food we neither ordered nor wanted.

A key plot point in Pirates has to do with the character of Frederick  being born during a leap year.  So this year, when we had that extra day in February, I immediately thought of Simon Gallaher, who brilliantly brought Frederick to life in our production. So when Simon posted a familiar photo of the two of them on his Facebook page this past week,  I assumed I would be reading something fun having to do with a leap year birthday party.  When I realized that Simon’s post announced Jon’s passing, I foolishly started googling to prove that he was wrong. Sadly, I realized that the report was accurate, and we had lost our Pirate King.

I don’t know how many times my fellow cast members and I have talked about how we should have a reunion. We have now lost a few mates from that production, so regret has hit sharply at our lack of initiative. I hope I do get a chance to see my Pirates family again, and we can pour the Pirate Sherry.  It would be a glorious thing.  Hurrah for the Pirate King.

 

http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/video/2016/apr/05/jon-english-memorial-family-friends-and-fans-remember-performer-video

 

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/jon-english-farewelled-at-sydneys-capitol-theatre/news-story/8014d5b3ade263a687b4fbf2aedb8e6e