Archive | July, 2013

Well! Someone’s Got To Break The Ice And It Might As Well Be Me

30 Jul

Two posts in one day! Normally I wouldn’t inundate you with so much overwhelmingly good, thought-provoking and heart-stirring writing, but I just received some news that I feel warrants a second post.

Eileen Brennan – better known to most people of my generation as Mrs. Peacock in the movie “Clue” – has died. According to the news articles I found online today, she passed away on Sunday at the age of 80. Ms. Brennan was such a wonderful actress – she was nominated for an Oscar for her role as Captain Doreen Lewis in “Private Benjamin” in 1980 and had featured roles in great films such as “The Last Picture Show,” “The Sting,”   and one of my other favorites, “Murder By Death.” She was also seen on TV in shows like “Magnum, P.I.,” “The Love Boat,” “Blossom,” “Seventh Heaven,” “Taxi,” “Will & Grace” and she reprised her role as Capt. Lewis in a television adaptation of “Private Benjamin,” for which she won an Emmy. And many years ago I was surprised to learn that, in spite of her raspy, smoker’s voice later in life, Ms. Brennan originated the role of Irene Molloy in Hello, Dolly! on Broadway. Back in her day, she had a beautiful, rich mezzo-soprano voice. Despite her huge list of credits, though, I will always remember Eileen Brennan for playing the wonderful Mrs. Peacock in the 1985 film, “Clue.”

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Eileen Brennan as Mrs. Peacock in “Clue.”

Admittedly, I was only 9 when the movie came out, and I don’t think I ever saw it in the theater, but I very distinctly remember renting it and watching it at home with our new VCR. I remember being fascinated that there were three possible endings – and that movie-goers only got to see one of the three at random in the cinema! The movie got me hooked on playing the board game which, for those young’uns out there, came first. I was charmed by it from the get-go.

I will not argue the artistic merits of “Clue,” but I will say that you would be hard-pressed to find a better ensemble in any film. Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd, Martin Mull, Michael McKean, Lesley Ann Warren and, of course, Ms. Brennan, deliver some of the best line readings with the most impeccable timing you’re likely to see again in one film. Ms. Brennan’s “Break The Ice” speech at the dinner table is brilliantly delivered and Ms. Kahn’s “Flames On The Sides Of My Face” is legendary. It is one of my go-to “feel good” movies when I need a pick-me-up or when I just want something familiar playing in the background. It’s one of those films that I can quote almost from beginning to end and from which there is a quote to fit nearly every occasion. It is a wonderful, underrated film that is rich with wonderful performances. It’s playing on my laptop as I write this now.

I never got to meet Ms. Brennan, but I feel her loss deeply as a fan of her work. I hope that she and Ms. Kahn are smiling down on all of us now as we remember them and appreciate how funny they both were. Rest in peace, Mrs. Peacock.

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The Hostess With The Mostess

29 Jul

Greetings from Brooklyn. I have just one more week in New York and then I’m off to Kentucky to visit my family for a few days before I head out on the road again to open Peter and the Starcatcher in Denver, Colorado. Not much has really happened since I wrote last, but I never seem to be able to find the time or the energy to write. That’ll change again once I’m back on the road.

One thing that has happened, though, is the return of my friend, the Twinkie! Well…perhaps frenemy is a better term. I know Hostess Bakeries took a beating when they decided to close down production back in November due to their filing bankruptcy. Many people said it was one of the best things to ever happen to the American diet and, while I agree that Twinkies and Ho Hos, Ding Dongs and Fruit Pies aren’t good for you, I was sad to see them go and I’m even happier to see them coming back.

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Twinkie The Kid

As a child, I grew up in a very tight-knit family – particularly on my Mother’s side. My maternal grandmother had 8 brothers and sisters – there were a couple more who died at birth or as infants – and so we would have huge family gatherings for all the major holidays. So large, in fact, that the family would have to rent out a rec center or hall for Thanksgiving and all the sisters would work together to cook. There would easily be 125 people at any giving holiday gathering with all the cousins and second cousins around. I’m guessing it wasn’t much fun for the adults. For a kid, it was heaven. For a fat kid…?! Forget it!!

Growing up in what I consider the South, my people know how to cook and eat. My grandparents always had a garden in their backyard when I was growing up, so we would have fresh green beans and potatoes and corn that, much to my chagrin, we would have to go out and pick or dig up for dinner. We spent hours during the summer snapping green beans, steaming and peeling tomatoes or shucking corn, preparing them to be “put up,” or canned. Looking back on it, it was a good time and I think if I’d been a little older, I might have appreciated the time I got to spend with my grandparents, but back then it was a chore. My Popaw was a construction contractor and he drove a big pickup truck that had a phone in it (that was a really big deal in the early 80’s) and I really enjoyed going to work with him, mostly because we’d end up eating all day.

I remember going to work with him once and we went to a greasy spoon for lunch. I don’t remember what I ate exactly, but I know there was a bowl of chili involved and, unfortunately, it made a reappearance on the floorboard of his pickup before we got home. Sorry, Popaw. I also remember, though, that he always had a drawer full of treats waiting for me (at least I thought they were all for me) at their house, and that was usually the first place my brother and I would go as soon as we walked in the door. After we took our shoes off. No shoes in the house. Ever!!

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OK. So my grandmother wasn’t quite this extreme, but shoes are still not allowed in her house.


Oh, that glorious bottom drawer, just next to the kitchen sink, where one could find paper towels with which to wipe away the evidence of a recently eaten Ding Dong or Ho-Ho. The sound of that silver foil wrapping as you peeled it away to find that firm, chocolatey hockey puck filled with cream. The look on Twinkie the Kid’s face on the box of spongey cakes that were meant to be eaten in pairs, so you had to have a second one. That drawer was heaven. It was filled with every Hostess snack cake you could imagine and more! Hostess, Little Debbie, Keebler: You name it, it was there, and it was mine! Grandmama would try to tell me, “Only one!,” but I never listened, eating as many as I liked with the childish logic that they would never notice how many were missing as long as the box had already been opened when I got there. That was my rule: Never open a brand new box…otherwise they’d know.

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Kraft Pineapple Spread

Popaw also used to keep Kraft pineapple cream cheese spread in the fridge. It came in little glass jars with screw-on lids, and once all the sweet, delicious cream cheese spread had been eaten on the Ritz crackers that also lived in the magic drawer, my grandparents would wash out the jars and keep them for me to use as a kid-sized drinking glass. I thought that was pretty cool. And they kept dozens of them. They used them for juice glasses, as well. My grandparents: Recycling before recycling was cool. Who knew?

So yes, I am very happy that the Twinkie has returned. It brings back fond memories of my childhood, rummaging through that drawer when I thought everyone was napping in the den, back when my Popaw could stand up straight and walk without a limp; when he could slather some pineapple spread onto a cracker without his hands shaking; when he would drive that pickup truck at the actual speed limit because he could see and hear properly; when we would go “Dairy Dipping” at the local Dairy Queen. The return of the Twinkie makes me feel young again…makes me feel a little safer. Maybe that’s part of why I go to food as an emotional release, but that’s another entry for another day…

Back To Broadway

24 Jul

Greetings from my sublet room in Brooklyn, New York. It’s about 1:15 in the morning. I’ve just gotten home from working at Pippin on Broadway, and I have to be up tomorrow to turn around and go right back to the theatre. I miss being on tour, and I miss our tour schedule. 

I haven’t written in a while because, well…I’m home in New York and that means I’ve been hustling since I got here to make money. ‘Cause that’s typically how it works here. For me, at least. I’ve spent the last week or so working days in our office, looping thousands of gold tassels into bookmarks that are to be sent out to Chicago to promote the upcoming tour of Peter and the Starcatcher and I’ve been either working in the theatres at night or out trying to have some semblance of a life. Or I’ve just been avoiding the commute and shirt-drenching walk home to the apartment in Brooklyn. I miss Astoria, where I know where everything is and how late it stays open. Thursday night I went to Chelsea Cinemas to see “Murder on the Orient Express.” I dozed off midway through the film. I may have even woken myself with a snore or two. Sorry. Friday night I had dinner with a new friend, which was lovely. Sunday night I went to see “The Conjuring,” which gave me goosebumps almost from the moment the movie started. I highly recommend seeing it.

Now that my work in the office is done, it’s back to working the shows. It’s such a joy to work at Pippin, though it’s never been one of my favorite shows. This production, though, is thrilling and scary and dark and funny and touching. And Andrea Martin gets a standing ovation midway through the show almost every night. How many times have you seen someone literally stop the show?? Watching her number, I have caught myself so overwhelmed by joy and wonder at what she’s doing up there that I get tears in my eyes and I have to laugh. It’s truly remarkable.

Later this week, I’m working at Peter and the Starcatcher for the first time since it transferred back to off-Broadway. It’ll be good to work it and see the show again – and to familiarize myself with the merchandise and the prices again considering I’m opening the tour in Denver in a few weeks. I’ll be there for two weeks, as far as I can tell, setting up and opening the show and then training the regular merchandise manager during the second week of the run. From there I’ll come back to New York for a week and then I’ll head to Providence, Rhode Island to open the Evita tour. Then I’ll go to Memphis the next week to meet up with Flashdance again for two weeks and then I’m off to St. Louis, Missouri to meet up with Evita again and I’ll stay with that show until who knows when. Confused? Me, too. I better be getting a lot of frequent flier miles for this. That’s the plan for now, anyway. It could all change tomorrow. And that’s showbiz, kids.

Anyway. It’s late and I have a show tomorrow. I should hit the hay. 

 

Hana Wa Saku

19 Jul

Today at lunch I was talking with a friend who had recently traveled to Japan. He spent a week there last year, mostly staying in Tokyo with a short trip to Kyoto. Anyone who knows me knows that I will talk about Japan until I’m hoarse, and he made the mistake of asking me what I liked about Japan. He wasn’t being critical – he just wanted to understand why I loved my time there so much.

I gave him the only answer I could come up with: I loved everything. I completely fell in love with the country, the people, the architecture, the landscapes, the culture, the language, the order and structure and, as I would come to realize midway through our tour, I fell in love with Japanese tamashii, or spirit.

A few months ago, as I was flipping through the channels on our television, I came across a new channel – NHK World – which basically featured all things Japanese, just in English. I love to watch their news broadcasts to find out what’s actually going on in the rest of the world as opposed to hearing more about Jodi Arias or what the Kardashians are up to these days. It’s nice to have another perspective on the world. And their cultural programming warms my heart and brings tears to my eyes because it often reminds me of the wonderful friends I made while I was working there.

The more I watched, the more I noticed a tune in the background of all of the NHK World commercials. It was beautiful, but I’d never heard it before and I had no way of identifying it. Shazaam certainly was of no help, so I did some investigating by way of Google. Finding a Japanese song title is incredibly difficult when you don’t read or write kanji, so I used the listening skills I learned in Japan to write out a line of the song phonetically so I could search it. Turns out, it was either incredibly easy to find, or my Japanese is better than I thought.

The song was written and produced by NHK – the Japan Broadcasting Corporation – in response to the devastating earthquake and tsunami in the Tohoku region of eastern Japan in March, 2011. The version I’d been hearing on NHK World was sung by a children’s choir, but I found this video of various Japanese celebrities lending their voice to the song. It’s called “Hana wa saku,” which roughly means, “flowers will continue to bloom.” It’s a song about strength and hope and faith. Every time I hear it, it makes me think of our time in Kuji, Japan.

As I mentioned in “You Gotta Have Heart! Miles and Miles and Miles of Heart,” I went to Japan in September of 2011, just six months after that devastating earthquake and tsunami, to do a concert tour with the Tokyo Philharmonic “Neverland” Orchestra. All of us involved in the show had been keeping a close eye on the State Department website regarding the nuclear crisis happening in Fukushima, worried that our government might find it unsafe for us to travel there. But mostly I kept watching and wishing that there was something that I could do to help. I didn’t have any money to send, and I wasn’t entirely sure that money was what they wanted or needed, anyway. I felt helpless. I wanted to help them and couldn’t. I saw booking the concert tour as my opportunity to do something – even if it was just to make someone forget for a minute or two or to make them smile with a song. That desire to be good for them drove me to study my music and to do the best I could at each and every rehearsal and performance.

There was one show in particular that stood out from the rest. We had been in Sapporo, on the northern island of Hokkaido, which is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen in my life, and we traveled south by train, back to the main island of Honshu. At the time, we still weren’t allowed by the U.S. government to travel within 50 miles of Fukushima, so we weren’t able to perform in any of the hardest hit areas, but we were able to perform in Kuji, a small town about 250 miles north of Fukushima.

From the train station, we transferred to a bus that would take us to Kuji. Japan is a country of overstimulation – color and lights everywhere – but we could tell something was different about Kuji. It was dark. Most of us didn’t even know we’d passed through the downtown area. There were no lights – not from houses, not from businesses, not from billboards or street lights. It was just dark. I think it was then that we realized that the town had taken a serious beating. It was dark because they still didn’t have enough power to illuminate the whole town.

The next day we went to the theatre to do our show, and in the daylight most everything where we were looked alright. We were told, though, that a few miles out toward the shore was a completely different story.

Before every performance, we would arrive at the theatre approximately four hours before the curtain actually went up. (That would never fly in the States). During those four hours, each and every instrument on the stage got its own private sound check. Every triangle, every flute, piccolo and penny whistle…they all got a sound check. Then each section of the orchestra would have a sound check together for balance. And then the entire orchestra would have a sound check for balance. Then it was the singer’s turn – each of us got about 30 seconds to sing whatever we wanted as we wandered the stage, checking to make sure they could hear us and that we could hear ourselves in the monitors. Then our Navigator (emcee), Francesco Sasaki-san, would get his own sound check. And then we’d have a rehearsal. Depending on what needed to be run, we would spot check songs or do entire pieces – with choreography – to make sure everything was right. The Japanese aren’t known for being perfectionists for nothing! After our rehearsal, we would be fed. The orchestra would get pre-packaged bento boxes, but the singers and our conductor got hot catered food – usually something the caterers thought Americans would like, which typically meant some form of a hamburg steak (a beef patty smothered in a Worchestershire-esque sauce) and/or a piece of grey, chewy chicken. There was also often salad or fruit of some sort, which is incredibly expensive in Japan, and there was always miso and rice. We also had a fantastic snack and drink table where we’d have all kinds of cookies and rice crackers and chocolates. They took great care of us.

In Kuji, we were still called four hours prior to curtain, but that day, our rehearsal would be an open one, meaning there would be people there watching us. We had a set list, and instead of spot checking numbers, we would basically give an hour-long performance. The audience members would be people who had lost their homes in the tsunami as well as many children who had been orphaned in the disaster. Backstage, next to the snack table, was a book about the tsunami and someone had marked the section with photos from Kuji.

Kuji, Japan, after the March 2011 tsunami.

Kuji, Japan, after the March 2011 tsunami.

The devastation was unreal, and to think that we were there to sing some Disney songs made the whole situation seem ridiculous. All through rehearsals in New York we had made jokes at the expense of some of the lyrics we were singing. In the opening number, “One Man’s Dream,” we sang about Walt Disney’s dream “to give to us a Disneyland where young and old can play” at a breakneck tempo. The next number was a song that had been written for the 10th anniversary of the Tokyo DisneySea theme park. It was called, “Be Magical!” and featured lyrics like, “Friends will be near for you./It’s all here for you./The perfect place to be,/Tokyo DisneySea!/It’ll be magical!” and “Worries behind you/Here you will find excitement instead.” That transitioned into “Fantasmic!”, in which we had to sing, “Imagination!/Follow your dreams/Imagination!/Catch a ride upon a moonbeam!” And then, of course, we closed the show singing “When You Wish Upon A Star” in Japanese, complete with a violin solo that would make even the hardest heart explode into fairy dust. It just seemed so trite. So…silly. Or maybe we were just jaded New Yorkers…

Those songs and their silly lyrics took on a whole new meaning that day. Standing out there, singing to kids who somehow were able to smile and laugh after all they’d lost; seeing grown men and women – Japanese men and women, who are notoriously stoic – openly weeping, either from joy or sorrow, or both. It suddenly made me realize that all they had were dreams and hopes and wishes and imagination, and we were telling them to follow those dreams. That nothing was impossible. And we were telling them that somehow, everything would be alright. Uncle Walt would make it so. And standing on that stage as Aoki-san started playing the all-too familiar, all-too sentimental melody of “When You Wish Upon A Star” as thousands of colored lights began to rise up all around us on stage, I found myself weeping, too. That’s what I had come to Japan for. That’s why I was there. I had finally found my way to help. I had never felt so fulfilled and satisfied in my entire life. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so much gratitude and humility.

The rest of the tour took on a new feel for me after that, and I think for some of my cast mates, too. That day changed the show for us. We were all a little more committed to those lyrics. They felt a little more relevant and substantial. It was…magical.

Taking our bows after the open rehearsal in Kuji, Japan.

Taking our bows after the open rehearsal in Kuji, Japan.

Off The Road Again…

16 Jul

Greetings from my temporary home in Brooklyn, New York. Sunday night was our last night of Flashdance in Kansas City and was, as best I can tell, my last night with the show. My boss tells me there’s a chance I may be going back to it at some point in September for a week or two, but that’s all still up in the air. I’d like to say that it was hard to say goodbye to the show and the cast and crew, but it wasn’t really anything for me. It was hard to be sad knowing there’s the possibility that I’ll be going back, even if just for a short while, but I was also acutely aware that it could be the last time I saw them. It was very strange for me to not know exactly how to feel. Regardless of what happens in September, I’m going to miss them all very much and I wish them all the best.

Yesterday we had what amounted to an almost 12 hour travel day. We had a 2-hour delay in Dallas, so I got to my sublet in Brooklyn at around 11:30 last night. It was a long day. And it’s hot here. According to my phone, it was 86° at 11:15 last night. According to the thermostat on my taxi driver’s dashboard it was 91°. Is it autumn yet?

So, here I am, back in New York. I slept in today, enjoying the air conditioning and putting off the 15-minute walk to the subway. I need to go into the office today to drop off paperwork and sort of debrief…talk about the future…all that fun stuff. And I’m working tonight. No rest for the weary. Thank goodness I’m working – I can’t afford to be here for three weeks and not work. Honestly, I couldn’t afford to be here for three days without working! I’m already looking forward to going back into the bubble that is touring, where I don’t have to worry about making my bed or buying toilet paper or paying electric bills or rent. I can’t wait, actually. I guess there’s nothing to do but go out and face this hateful city, though, and try to make amends with her. I better get moving…

The One About The Murder

13 Jul

In 1994, just after high school graduation, I got a job working as a server at a very popular family-run restaurant in Paducah, Kentucky. I remember being trained by a guy named Tim, who had feathered blonde hair and reeked of cigarette smoke and CK One.  The restaurant – the Holman House – was situated in the lower lobby of the Cobb Hotel in Paducah. It was a tiny place with maybe 30 tables, but it was always busy and, according to Tim, they could make great tips.

Not long after being hired, the restaurant moved to a brand new location on a busy street closer to the mall. The new building would have three separate dining rooms and a huge banquet dining area that could be closed off for private parties. One dining room – the Paducah Room – was full of old photos of old downtown Paducah as well as a couple of quilts on the walls. (Paducah is one of the quilting capitols of the world and is home to the American Quilter’s Society’s annual Quilt Week in the spring). The smallest dining room was called the Garden Room and featured regular tables as well as a few rectangular four-top tables with porch swings for seating. I don’t remember the name of the third dining room, but it was the biggest and, honestly, had the least amount of personality.

The Holman House had been a Paducah institution for years before I started working there. It was owned and run by Bob Holman and his wife, Linda. Bob cooked and she made the desserts. The restaurant was known for its amazing pies, and people would literally line up for one of Linda’s Peaches ‘N Cream pies, which was only available seasonally. When the restaurant moved to the larger facility, their daughter Bobbi Jo and her husband, Neil, bought the place, though Bob and his wife continued to work in the kitchen. Bobbi’s sister, Regina, did the accounting. It was quite the family affair.

Bobbi’s background was in interior design and, even though she’d grown up around the restaurant business, she didn’t really seem to have a good grasp on how to run the business. Instead she ran it with an iron fist. It was quite obvious that she was insecure in her position as a leader – she constantly was looking over her shoulder, thinking that none of us respected her, which, of course, we didn’t because she was such a bitch. Her husband, however, made her look like a pussy cat. Neil wasn’t around much – he made it pretty obvious that the restaurant was Bobbi’s thing – and I’m sure he enjoyed the time it afforded him away from his wife. Rumors were always flying around the restaurant that he had been caught cheating on her again, and when we’d go back into the office after a shift to settle our money, it’d be full of flowers and her eyes would be puffy. Looking back, I should have felt sorry for her, but I couldn’t get past how cold and greedy she seemed. Well…they both seemed.

From the time it opened, the new restaurant did amazing business. We were always busy. We offered full menu service as well as an all-you-can-eat buffet, which was situated between the kitchen and the Paducah and Garden rooms. I can’t tell you how many chicken breasts accidentally ended up on my tray as I passed the buffet on my way to the server’s station in the Paducah Room or how many pieces of French Silk or Peaches ‘n Cream pie I accidentally plated upside down, thus making it unservable. Oops! Guess I’ll have to eat that… We also served hot rolls at each table, complete with four different types of butter: regular, orange (with bits of orange rind mixed in), strawberry and cinnamon. Between the au jus from the prime rib, the barbeque sauce from the ribs they served on the buffet and the butter we had to dip by hand for each table, I would come home completely covered in whatever we were serving that night because we also had to bus our own tables. One summer, Bobbi decided we needed to change from the long-sleeved white button-down shirts to embroidered coral pink polos, for which we had to pay $30 each.

Christmas at the Holman House was magical. And insane. Bobbi would go crazy with decorations (that was her forte, you know). One night we’d leave the restaurant and return the next day to find twenty-five or thirty giant Christmas trees, fully decorated, in every corner of the restaurant. There were little twinkle lights wrapped around the grapevines hanging from the ceiling. It was beautiful – and over the top. And you couldn’t get a table. We’d have waits over an hour long for dinner during the week, and people would specifically ask to be seated in the swings in the garden room, so their wait could be up to two hours. And they waited!! I remember thinking, “No prime rib in the world is worth waiting two hours just to sit in a swing and get motion sickness at dinner.”

One night I was serving a huge Christmas banquet with three other servers. It was the first of three banquets we would be working that night, so we had to get them in and out as quickly as possible. It was a corporate Christmas dinner, and when it came time to pay, the owner of the company saw that the automatic gratuity was around $250 to be split between the four of us. Out of the goodness of his heart, he added to the gratuity to make it an even $400 so that each of us could take home $100. Obviously we were all thrilled. All of us but Bobbi.

When we came into the office at the end of the night to check out, we were told that we would receive only the gratuity that had originally been agreed upon and that the additional gratuity would be absorbed by the restaurant. We were all livid. Luckily our night manager, Kathy, who had been with the restaurant since she’d been a server there 10 years earlier, was able to talk Bobbi into letting us keep our entire tip. She wasn’t happy about it, but she finally consented.

I was at Paducah Community College at the time, and my work and studies didn’t go well together. Kathy thought it was a good idea to move me up front to be a host, which required less time doing prep work and cleanup than serving, but I was allowed to continue to serve on weekends and during busy seasons. I was fine with that. It got me away from Bobbi, who had already told me she wasn’t happy with the work I was doing. She said school was getting in the way of my work. I thought, “That’s as it should be, isn’t it?!”

On the morning of July 17, 1996 – my day off, as I remember it – I woke to find both of my parents hovering over my bed, one on each side of me. My Dad was trying to wake me up. I thought perhaps I’d been called into work, but they told me no – I wouldn’t be going into work that day. Or perhaps for a long time after that. And then my Mom turned on the radio. Bobbi Jo had been found the night before, dead in her bathtub…strangled by a telephone cord.

What?!

The restaurant was closed for two days, I think. The staff was called in the second day for a meeting and to be interviewed by the police. The majority of the staff immediately suspected Neil had something to do with it, but…Neil had been the one to find her. Apparently, someone had entered their home while Neil and their 4-year old son and Bobbi’s nephew were out. Bobbi had always said that her worst nightmare was someone breaking into their house, so they’d had a security system installed, but for some reason that night it didn’t go off. According to what I heard, a struggle began in the kitchen. I was told a glass maple syrup bottle had been broken, and the newspapers disclosed that Bobbi had been hit on the head with a blunt object. A fingernail was found in the wall leading up the stairs, so apparently the struggle continued up there and finally she was strangled with the telephone cord from her bedroom and left slumped over the bathtub. When Neil and the two boys got home, he found her. Their six month old baby was in the next room, unharmed.

We were told that we could go to the visitation at the funeral home in small groups, in shifts. When I got there, Neil was standing next to the closed casket, stoney-faced and despondent. He was on tranquilizers, I was told. As I shook his hand and gave my condolences, I kept thinking, “You killed her. I know you had something to do with it.” The next day at the funeral, the restaurant staff all sat together in a group in the back of the church. As Neil got up to read a letter he’d written on behalf of their two children to their mother, we collectively rolled our eyes and kept our heads low. We were not able to attend the burial because the restaurant was scheduled to open for lunch at 3:00 and we had silverware to roll. Yes, you read that correctly – we were open the day of our owner’s funeral.

I continued to work at the Holman House for a few months after Bobbi’s murder. By that time, I was preparing to go to Murray State University, which was a 45-minute commute from Paducah, so I wasn’t able to work as much. I heard through the grapevine that in June 1999, Neil was sentenced to 12 years in prison for conspiracy to murder Bobbi. He was alleged to have paid a local hairdresser $50,000 to have someone kill her. In April 1999, the hairdresser was also sentenced to 10 years in prison for murder conspiracy for her role in the plot to murder Bobbi. She claims she gave the $50,000 to someone else who kept the money but never carried out the crime. The actual murderer has yet to be identified and the case is still unsolved almost 20 years later. The case was even featured in the “Paducah: Cruel Summer” episode of City Confidential in 2002.

What strikes me today, looking back on the whole ordeal, is that Bobbi Jo was only 35 when she was killed. She seemed so much older to me then, but…I’m now a year older than she was when she died. I didn’t like the woman, but I certainly didn’t think she deserved what she got. It’s sad to me that they still haven’t found out who did the deed. I can’t imagine what it must be like for her family to not have that closure, or what it must be like for Bobbi and Neil’s kids, to know that their Dad paid someone to have their Mom killed.

The Holman House is now a small cafeteria in Paducah. From what I understand from friends, it still does good business and is still run by Bob and Regina. Working there was certainly an education for me, and it has turned me off of the whole restaurant business. I know what goes on in the kitchen. I know what goes on in the server’s stations. I know what happens when you piss people off. You get spit in your food. Or you get killed.

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Cream Of The Crop, Tip Of The Top, It’s Mary Poppins, And There We Stop!

12 Jul

Greetings from Kansas City (still here…) where the temperature has significantly dropped since my last entry. It’s a cool 86° – a full 20° cooler than it was two days ago when we opened the show. I’m still looking forward to temperatures in the 60’s, but I’ll take this for now.

Today while I was trolling Facebook I came across a link for the first trailer to be released for Disney’s upcoming “Saving Mr. Banks.” The film centers around P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) – the author of the Mary Poppins books – and Walt Disney’s (Tom Hanks) struggle to get her to release the rights and to approve the production of the film, which would go on to earn 13 Academy Award nominations and 5 wins, including Best Actress in a Leading Role for Julie Andrews.

“Mary Poppins” is maybe the first movie I remember actually seeing in the theater (or at least it’s the one I’ve been thinking I saw for 30 years). In the late 70’s/early 80’s, we didn’t have VCRs or DVD/BluRay players yet, so we didn’t watch movies at home unless they were on TV. I suppose it’s possible that “Mary Poppins” had been broadcast, but I specifically remember seeing it at the Showcase Cinemas on Bardstown Road in Louisville. The way I remember it, the movie was cut short because of a tornado warning, and we were all sent home to hide in our bathtubs. That’s my first real recollection of going to the movies – a tornado coming through town. It’s a wonder I ever set foot in a movie theater again!

I feel like I must have seen “Mary Poppins” before then, though, because from as far back as I can remember, my family has told me that I was always hopping off the ledge of my grandparent’s fireplace with an umbrella in my hand, claiming to be Mary Poppins. I also liked to pretend I was C3-PO and R2-D2, but I couldn’t tell you the first time I saw “Star Wars,” either.

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“Mousercise” was one of my favorite LPs as a kid.

Back in the day when we had record players, I had a huge collection of albums for a 5-year old. I had all sorts of Disney-related storytelling albums and “Disco Mickey Mouse” and “Mousercise.” I also had Barry Manilow, Olivia Newton-John and I’d borrow my Mom’s Motown records sometimes, too. But I mostly listened to those Disney albums. I knew every word to every song – “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah,” “It’s A Small World,” “When You Wish Upon A Star,” “Lavender Blue (Dilly-Dilly).” When we moved to England, they had something we didn’t have in the States yet – something called Picture Disc. It was a clear album with pictures sandwiched between the two sides, and on the record was the full story and songs of whatever you were listening to – “The Fox and the Hound,” “Lady and the Tramp,” and my favorite – “Mary Poppins.” I would listen to it for hours on end. Even today, when I’m feeling down and need a pick-me-up, “Mary Poppins” is usually my first choice to lift my spirits.

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I knew every word of this “Mary Poppins” Picture Disc LP.

I don’t know what the connection is for me. Perhaps it’s just the nostalgia – maybe it takes me back to being a child again. Maybe it’s Julie Andrews. She can do no wrong in my book. Maybe it’s the magic. Who wouldn’t want to slide up banisters and leap into chalk drawings and have a tea party on the ceiling? What I wouldn’t given even now to just snap my fingers and make my room clean itself. I think it’s a combination of all of those things, I guess. Whatever it is, Mary Poppins – the movie and Mr. Disney’s vision of the character – mean a great deal to me.

A few months ago, our tour was in Costa Mesa, California, just a few miles from Disneyland in Anaheim. My good friends Tom and Anthony live in San Diego and they have annual passes to Disneyland, so I was lucky that they were able to drive up and spend two days with me at the park. It was my first time at Disneyland or California Adventure, though certainly not my first time at a Disney park. I had been to Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea when I was in Japan, and back in the mid-80’s, my grandparents took me to Disney World, back when there was only the Magic Kingdom and EPCOT. Yeah, I’m old school.

Me with Bianca (of "The Rescuers") at Walt Disney World circa 1984.

Me with Bianca (of “The Rescuers”) at Walt Disney World circa 1984.

While we were in Disneyland, Tom and Anthony – two of the biggest Disnerds I’ve ever met – were talking about the changes they made to the park when the film “Saving Mr. Banks” was being shot on location. Tom pulled up some pictures on his phone and they were was really remarkable. The old character costumes had been pulled out and dusted off, some of the colors had changed, the guests were all dressed in their best early 60‘s clothes (Side note: If people really did wear dresses and long pants to Disneyland, I can’t imagine what Uncle Walt would think about what people wear to the park today), but it was still Disneyland.

When the Broadway production of Mary Poppins opened in 2006, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend a press event at the New Amsterdam Theatre on 42nd Street, where Poppins was going to move in when The Lion King moved to the Minskoff Theatre. It was a big to-do for industry folks, introduced by the President of Disney Theatricals, Thomas Schumacher. The writers of the new material for the show, George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, came out and sang through a couple of the new pieces and then, as a surprise, the surviving composer of the film score, Richard Sherman, was introduced and he sang through a few of the original songs and told one or two short anecdotes about his involvement with the film and the new stage production. Just as we thought the event was ending, a curtain raised up and a full orchestra was onstage playing a suite of music from “Mary Poppins.” It was so beautiful, and I won’t mind admitting that I got a little choked up. On our way out the door, Disney one-upped themselves by giving each of us a Mary Poppins umbrella, complete with a parrot head handle. It was maybe the most amazing piece of merchandising I’ve ever seen. Sadly, I have no idea where that umbrella is now.

As a child, I believed there was magic in that umbrella. Even after 12 years of living in New York, which is enough to make anyone jaded, I still do. Watching Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke – bad Cockney accent and all – dancing through cartoon farmyards still makes me think, “How did they do that?!” “Step In Time” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” (or “dociousaliexpiisticfragilcalirupus” backwards (kind of), but that’s going a bit too far, don’t you think?) take me back to a time when I wanted to recreate those numbers step by step on a stage for people to enjoy as much as I did. “Stay Awake” still gives me that melancholy feeling of knowing it’s time to go to bed, even though you don’t want to. And watching Mary Poppins fly off into the sunset always makes me feel a little bit as if she’s leaving me – not the Banks children. What a comfort to know that I can always hit PLAY and there she’ll be again, sitting in that cloud, powdering her nose.

Needless to say, I am very excited about “Saving Mr. Banks.” I’ll be in Costa Mesa again the week it opens. If there’s anything happening at Disneyland to celebrate the premiere, I plan to find a way to be there. Now get off your computer and go fly a kite!

And for those of you who are keeping up: I’m now 93 hours diet soda free. Woohoo!