So it's August 7, I'm at work, and I'm excited about seeing Vaudeville at the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse that evening. More specifically, I'm excited about seeing the performing wait staff in their first full-length musical revue in two years, and can't wait to write about my Bootlegger pals Jennifer Diab, Brad Hauskins, Tom Lawrence, Adam Michael Lewis, Amanda McGill, Liz J. Millea, Andrea Moore, Sara Nicks, Sunshine Ramsey, Jan Schmall, Bryan Spies, Rodney Swain, and, of course, Sarahjayne Snow.
And then, late that morning, Jan calls, and tells me that you just broke a leg.
On the day of the show's opening.
Sarahjayne, that is not the funny kind of irony.
Having worked with you as a Bootlegger from 2001 to 2005 (and with others from 1994 to 2001), I know how much you wanted to be there, and can only imagine how heartbroken you were not to be. If it's any consolation, you were much missed; when Denny Hitchcock prefaced the performance with news of your accident, there was a lot of audible concern from the crowd, and like myself, I'm sure everyone's wishing you the speediest of recoveries.
But let me tell you how unbelievably proud you would've been of our friends, because with almost no prep time, the Bootleggers did what they had to do, and what you, yourself, have been called on to do numerous times over the years: They covered, and covered beautifully. (The show must go on, right?)
I'm not sure how many people realize just how tricky the Bootleggers' job is, in that beyond performing a song-and-dance pre-show after 90 minutes of waiting tables, the staging, solos, and choreography change nightly depending on who's on staff. The pre-show might have been directed for 13 people, but if only six are working the floor that evening, you do it with six.
Consequently, the Bootleggers are accustomed to last-minute switches, and there wasn't a moment in Thursday's Vaudeville that felt at all awkward. Director/choreographer Shellee Frazee and the gang did a tremendous job of covering your absence in the dance numbers (which were great, by the way), and while several of our friends told me how amazing you were on your solos, you would've been hugely impressed with how well your replacements pulled them off: Liz delivered a lovely version of "Manhattan," Bryan kicked off Act II with a spirited "Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries," and Sunshine's hysterical performance in "My New Philosophy" from You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown would've brought the house down if she'd been allowed to be on stage for its finale. (Understandably but sadly, a quick costume change forced her to exit early.)
Plus, as I hope you're aware, the show itself is terrific. Man, did I have a great time at Vaudeville, even though, with its musical selections from Sondheim, Lieber & Stoller, and the Beatles, it didn't really have anything to do with a traditional understanding of vaudeville. (The show's title seems almost designed to scare off audiences not in their 80s.) But the production's creators - Brad, Shellee, and music director and on-stage pianist Ron May - did a spectacular job of disguising that fact. Tom's and Jennifer's silent-comedy narrative, as they wordlessly introduced Vaudeville's nine themed segments, was a wonderfully well-sustained, frequently surprising running gag. The occasional comic shtick found the group selling appropriately cornball jokes with gusto. And Andrea, Liz, and Sunshine, who routinely showed up to dance the hell out of Shellee's dynamic moves, were a truly electrifying trio; any vaudeville show - any show period - would've been lucky to have them on the bill.
There were so many moments to savor: Tom's comically dejected Charlie Brown, and Sara's and Jennifer's feisty ankle-biters, in the show's witty "Childhood" section; Adam's Harold Hill and Andrea's Marian leading a splendid Music Man montage; Brad's impassioned take on "Being Alive," with Liz magnificent on Company's demanding "I'm Not Getting Married Today" number; Jan and Rodney offering a brilliantly re-imagined "Do You Love Me?" from Fiddler on the Roof; Amanda's plucky, endearing Annie Oakley in "You Can't Get a Man with a Gun"; Bryan's smooth-as-silk delivery of "Top Hat, White Tie, & Tails"; Sunshine's invigorating "I Can't Do It Alone" from Chicago ... .
There are more - many more - that we can talk when next I see you, Sarahjayne. Let me just close by saying that with Shellee's topnotch staging, Greg Hiatt's exceptionally fine costumes, and percussionist John Ladson II and our pianist hero, Ron, playing so well, Vaudeville was two hours of total happiness. And yeah, I'm totally biased toward you guys, but I don't care - I couldn't be more proud of the Bootleggers' achievement.
So take care, give your new baby a kiss for me, and get well soon. I'll gladly return to Vaudeville to see you in it, even if you have to wheelchair your ass onstage to get there.
Vaudeville plays each Thursday in August. For tickets, call (309)786-7733 extension 2.