Friend of the podcast Caleb Damschroder (Cabaret) shares the rare opportunity of revisiting one of his favorite roles from youth theatre almost decades later.
As kids, most of us theatre nerds crammed the cast recordings of Cats or Rent into our prepubescent brains. We memorized all of the colors of Joseph's coat. We knew exactly how many times Fruma Sarah screamed at Tevye about her damn pearls. (Just me?) And while I was hard at work memorizing the Hand Jive and Do-Re-Mi-ing with you all, I committed a couple odd ball shows to memory as well.
The community theatre in my small hometown in rural Ohio was given over to the teens every summer. I'd be remiss to say we were anything less than very ambitious. One summer we tangled our teenaged bodies into a mound of hormonal flesh for the orgy scene in Pippin. Another summer, Stephanie B. regaled the audience with her account of turning her first trick as Roberta Victor, the hooker, in Working. For my final summer at the Teen Theatre, we did our best in tackling Stephen Sondheim's rarely produced Merrily We Roll Along. I got to play Franklin Shepard. The show goes backwards following Frank and his two friends, Mary and Charlie. At the start, they are in their early 40's and the show ends with them as 20 year olds.
I've been able to sing the whole score for almost 20 years now. Both the original cast recording with The Hills of Tomorrow and the 1994 off-Broadway cast recording where the 1st trumpet botches the high note in the peak of the Overture. It's always been one of my favorites. It's a show about artists. It's a show about growing up. It's a show about your expectations of life and how those expectations often require recrafting.
I was 18 when I got to take a first stab at this show. And now almost 17 years later I'm very fortunate to be able to take a second crack at it. I'm currently in rehearsals up at the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston. We're recreating Maria Friedman's Olivier winning production complete with West End stars, Mark Umbers and Damian Humbley reprising their roles, and the legendary Ms. Friedman once again at the helm.
Revisiting the material, this time being closer to Frank's age at the end of the story (the beginning of the show) when I was closer to his age at the beginning of the story (the end of the show) last time, is the wildest experience. Every day at rehearsal it's as if I'm looking in a mirror. I'm reminded of the memories from the Fremont Community Theatre Teen Theatre. I'm reminded of who I was then and I'm curious if 18 year old Caleb would be proud of who I've become.
That's one of the beauties of the theatre. You bring your life's experiences with you to each new show. To each new role. And every now and again you're lucky enough to return to a piece you've worked on before and bring new experiences to an old role. To revisit it once again as if it's an old friend.
With each day of rehearsal I'm reminded of those teenage years. Those hours spent committing new shows to memory. Feasting on Frank Loesser, Lerner & Loewe, Stephen Sondheim. Rejoicing with that theatre nerd that's inside all of us.
Here's to us. Who's like us? Damn few.
Listen to our episode on Sondheim ensemblists here.