What was your high-school musical? I remember but one: “Bye Bye Birdie,” starring the band director’s blonde son in the title role. (His blonde daughter was some sort of super-majorette called the “Golden Girl.” A band parent’s exacta.)
Anyway, I wasn’t in “Bye Bye Birdie.” I wasn’t in the crew. I was even more pathetic than that — I hung out with some people who were on the crew, and came to practice mainly for the shenanigans we pulled in the trouper deck, surely the best hiding place, and shenanigans venue, in the school. (My second-favorite place was only available if the janitor liked you — the room under the swimming pool with the window that looked into the deep end, about five feet down. I spent a rapturous free period there, watching my classmates adjust their suits after diving, their faces distorted by held breath, bubbles trailing from their noses.)
Anyway, I never saw the final version of the play; the trouper deck on show night was a serious place. But I can still sing most of “Telephone Hour” and “Kids.” Which I suppose, for a trouper-deck troublemaker, that counts as a fairly successful theater experience.
How long ago that was. Which is why I recommend “The Supersizing of the School Play,” from Sunday’s NYT, reporting…anyone? Yes, the welcome news that high-school theater is the latest once-simple-and-wholesome educational activity to get steroidal and utterly screwed up. The story is datelined New Albany, Ind., which shouldn’t surprise anyone; Indiana is on the leading edge of the Supersizing of the Marching Band Show — follow that link for vintage NN — and it figures it would be on this trend, too. Hoosier parents think of high-school theater as a wholesome activity that will keep their kids off drugs and out of gangs (and it will, if they stay out of the trouper deck). What’s a $165,000 budget for the fall musical when such lofty aims are at stake?
When did it stop being enough to put a kid in his dad’s old vest and have him sing “Sue Me” in a Noo Yawk accent? Probably sometime before puberty. Today, even grade school students (and their schools) are being cultivated with “junior” versions of Broadway shows from M.T.I. and the “Getting to Know You” series from R&H. (Yes, fourth graders can now do a 70-minute “King and I,” albeit without the deep kissing.) By the time they return from high school drama club trips to New York, they want to perform the sophisticated roles, and replicate the increasingly dazzling effects, they enjoyed as audience members. …Bit by bit, a world formerly known for wooden renditions of “Our Town” in the cafetorium has become something strangely more like professional theater in its elaborateness, ambition and choice of material. And the most challenging musicals are now among the most coveted; some high schools do “Sweeney Todd.” Some do “Evita.” The holy grail for the elite programs, at least until “Cats” is released to them in 2006, is the humongous “Les Mis�rables.”
Oh, great. A high-school production of “Cats.” A new definition of hell.
What a weekend. Gentle temperatures, gentle sunlight, birdies tweeting outside my sickroom window, which is where I spent most of it. It was another deck-clearing mystery illness — fever, muscle aches, coughing, laryngitis, oh-you-name-it. I’ve relocated to the guest room, the better to spare the spouse a) my germs; and b) my restless thrashing in the throes of agony. I think the corner may have been turned, however — I awoke with damp hair, damper clothing and actual energy, evidence the fever had been driven from the building. I felt good enough to pour my first cup of coffee in two days, which instantly banished the lingering traces of headache, too.
“How much of this headache is whatever-I’ve-got and how much is caffeine deprivation?” I wondered at breakfast. Sobering thought, that — physical withdrawal symptoms must mean I’m an official coffee junkie now.
Like I care.
Here’s something being a newspaper columnist spoils you for: Newspaper columns. I used to read them all religiously; now I have but a small selection on my bookmarks, old reliables I find, well, reliable, and everybody else can just get in line. Some days are worse than others; take Mother’s Day.
There were no fewer than four Mother’s Day columns in my News/Free Press combined Sunday edition today. The day is a gimme, a big slow pitch, low-hanging fruit. I know this from experience; just go write a little bit about your own mom and leave early on Friday. Write about how you never appreciated her until you had kids of your own, salt with a few anecdotes, wind up with either a) I’m glad you’re still alive for me to tell you how much I appreciate you, Mom; or b) now my Mama’s dead and I wish I had told her sooner. (OK, so I couldn’t find one of those today. But I’ve read ’em.) What kind of tears are you trying to jerk, happy or sad? Either one’s a winner on the sappiest day of the year.
Column-writing is like shoveling coal into the furnace of a speeding train, and you take the easy ones where you can get them. God knows there’ll be enough days when you have no peg, no inspiration, and you’ll be reduced to writing about the weather. I’ve done both — Mother’s Day and the weather.
I only wish, now that I’m older and wiser, more editors would put a curb on M.D. emoting. Hold a competition; any columnist who wants to write about Mother’s Day has to submit it a week in advance, and only one will run, a determination to be made any way an editor sees fit.
This is the best Mother’s Day column I read today. It is spare and simple and…spare. Predictably, it’s by one of my old reliables.
Oh, and anyone who tried to get away with an editorial this lame? Would be shot. The link will only work for those who actually pay for the Col–bus Disp—-, and GOD KNOWS WHY THEY WOULD, when you open the editorial page and see the headline “Give Mom a hug.” It does not disappoint:
Mothers have antennae that detect trouble brewing while dads are mesmerized by sports on TV. Parents of both genders dearly love their kids, but mothers are better at showing it. Some problems never are solved until Mom gets home from work. As they mature, mothers willingly relinquish pieces of their independence in order that their husbands are fulfilled, the kids are healthy and happy, the pets are fed, rooms are clean, beds are made and prayers are said. Motherhood is the most difficult job that many women undertake, but it can be the most satisfying. The love and respect shown today for moms, stepmothers, grandmas and great-grandmas are hard-earned. Take time to remember that special person in your life.
OK, noted. And so the week begins.