Excerpt from More Fog, Please, “Carousel Revisited”:
The theater world is filled with drama of all kinds. Sometimes we hear “It’s not life and death”' when a diva ─ a stressed actor or singer ─ protests too much. True enough.
Sometimes, though, life and death hover over the theater like a sudden black storm cloud on a sunny day. High school is too early, but life can hand us a difficult lesson at a young age. This was how I first came to know Carousel. To understand the 2013 production at East Stroudsburg, I need to explain what happened a long time ago in a small town far away.
In the fall of 1953, I was a junior in high school in my home town of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and we received the exciting news that we would be performing this show – a real Broadway show! Not the operettas we’d done in the past. A serious show; a musical drama.
The show was performed in February of 1954. A close friend, Anita Barker, played the role of Julie Jordan. She had auditioned only days after burying both her parents, who had been shot to death by her estranged brother-in-law. Anita’s dedication and professionalism was a marvel for all of us involved with the production. I believe being cast as Julie helped her through a horrifically dark time in her life, and her performance was inspired and inspiring.
The [East Stroudsburg South High School, 2013] show was in March. On May 6, I was having lunch with Judy Lawler and whining about having the summer ahead of me and not much to do since Ragtime, two years earlier, had been my last summer show.
“Why don’t you write a book?”
I think I just stared at her. Might as well suggest I climb Mt. Everest, and I said pretty much exactly that. A book! Too daunting, too much, too … everything.
“Don’t think so big. Think of one event, one incident.”
Immediately I thought of Anita Barker and that Carousel production from 1954. I had told Judy the story before, and reminded her of it.
She nodded. “Then use that,” she said. “And try writing it in the first person.”
I went home and sat at the computer, and I spent many hours there over the next five months. The story had been there all along. I realized as I wrote what an impact Carousel ─ that Carousel in 1954 at Oak Ridge High School ─ had on my life. Reliving the show with these twenty-first century young men and women helped me to remember a great deal about that long-ago production.
And that’s how I came to write How I Grew Up in 2013, and followed up with two additional novels over the next two years. The show is almost a major character in the book because it was so important to my character “Melanie Stewart” at this traumatic time in her life. While I was writing about Anita, I also was writing a work of fiction, and Melanie became a person in her own right.
I gave her a leading man named Jamie Logan. I really liked my character Jamie Logan, a handsome boy with a good heart and a superb tenor voice, and I just wrote a book about him entitled You Are My Song. In between, I wrote a book about Melanie’s friend Krissy Porter and the young man who becomes her life, a brilliant pianist named Eli Levin who has a frightening congenital heart defect: hence, Eli’s Heart. All three have their beginnings in that Carousel production. So without it being my intent, I guess I wrote a trilogy.
But in writing How I Grew Up, I was able to talk about the rehearsals for the show and recapture the feeling of being part of a musical. There’s really nothing quite like it, and having been with the South kids so recently, I drew on the feelings I knew they had experienced.
Here’s a very brief excerpt. It’s a school day; it’s also opening night.
We all kind of went through the day as if we weren’t really there at all, but were waiting for our lives to start that evening. At lunch, everybody in the cast tried to sit with each other. We had a connection that nobody else could really understand. The cast was a group for the weeks that we rehearsed the show, especially that last week. For that brief time, there really were no other groups in our high school.
It was pointless for us to talk about anything except the show, because that was the only thing any of us were thinking about.
And if you’ve ever been in a high school show … you’ll understand exactly how these young performers felt.
How I Grew Up is available on Amazon, paperback $10.00 and Kindle $3.99.
It’s a good story! I’d love to share it with you.
Carousel, South H.S., 2013