There’s a lot of talent seen on small theatre stages: actors, vocalists, and dancers who give strong, solid, enjoyable performances, worth the price of a ticket and then some. I’ve enjoyed more fine performances in my years than I can count, but every once in while there was an artist who was genuinely gifted, and shone so bright, the moment has stayed with me undimmed by time. But for a different set of circumstances the whole world might have seen and heard their gift, so I feel blessed to have been witness to something astounding so few could share. Tonight I learned of the passing of one such talent, and it has made me think with gratitude of another.
The first show I was in with Chuck Jones was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. He was just a kid then, still in high school, I think, and he was pretty stiff on stage, but then he opened his mouth and this VOICE came out. Wow, could that kid sing! Over the years I would pester Chuck to come do more theatre with us but he never really was bitten by the theatre bug. He was a great guy, so funny and so full of love and laughter it was always a joy to be around him. He did a handful of shows, including providing the AWESOME voice of Audrey II the plant in Little Shop of Horrors. But one of Chuck’s big problems with performing was his inability to contain his laughter, and even as Audrey he had to duck out the back of the theatre to let loose a belly laugh over some backstage joke and then rush back to the mike for his next lines.
One night after a rehearsal we were giving Chuck a ride home and it was just Chuck and Sheri and I sitting around unwinding, chatting, as stage folk habitually do after a practice. And there in the quiet of the empty theatre Chuck broke into a rendition of “His Eye is on the Sparrow” that to this day brings tears to my eyes. If it’s possible that God lends angel voices to humans, Chuck had one of those voices, and no other singer has come close to the blessing Chuck bestowed on us that night with that song. It’s been almost 9 years since Chuck died unexpectedly at 35 years old, and I still feel the space that he left wanting to be filled with more of his song.
And so with sadness I learned of the passing of my friend Gaylen Colbert. I knew Gaylen since the early 80s and was lucky to have her perform in several of my shows, including And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little and Arsenic and Old Lace. She was a consumate actress, completely inhabiting a role with apparent ease and I always appreciated her skill. She won several acting awards over the years that I recall for roles in Follies and Fifth of July, and was a smash in several local productions of The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society’s Production of A Christmas Carol.
But there is one performance of Gaylen’s that still leaves me in wonder after many years. She was the stage manager for a production of Camelot in which for some reason the song “Lusty Month of May” was being performed by Lady Catherine instead of Guinevere. As it happened, the actress playing Catherine had to miss a show and Gaylen understudied for the part. I worked tech on the show and saw nearly every moment of the run, but her performance that night of that song was so marvelously exemplary, so superb, it stands out to me even now as the moment a star shown on that stage. Sadly Gaylen was one of those people plagued with health issues she could not overcome, because she certainly had the gift to be a truly great artist.
As a director there have been many times over the years that I’ve thought, “Wow, that song would be perfect for Chuck” or “Oh, I wish Gaylen could take this part!” But such disappointment is fleeting for the perfect moments I carry with me of the memories in which they shine. And the next time I call on them to be in a show, they’ll be ready. In the meantime, I am over-joyed with the new stars that are willing to shine on stage for Gilda Shedstecker Presents! It’s why I love what I do.