Saturday, February 24, 2007

Stage frights

What was the most embarrassingly awful stage production that you ever took part in at school?

I can't recall the name of the nightmarish one in which I starred when I was in first grade, when a teacher — what she was thinking, I'll never know — decided to cast me as both of the show's leads. (The parents thought it was a riot when I changed hats and wigs back and forth onstage.) So I'll cast my vote for "A Pink Party Dress," the eighth-grade musical when I was at South Orange (N.J.) Middle School.

The show's director had fallen in love with "A Pink Party Dress" during the one night in 1960 when it hit the New York City stage — rumor had it that, by the time the curtain went down, he was the only audience member left. He personally got Samuel French, Inc. to send over the scripts and sheet music to the show, which were dreadful beyond words.

The synopsis says it all:

"A mountain girl yearns for new pink clothes, and a woman from the outside world brings her a present which is, unfortunately, another patched dress. Can be done by an all-female cast.”

I played the "woman from the outside world," a rich lady for whom the poor mountain girl did some kind of menial work at a country club during the previous summer. Out of the goodness of her heart, she makes the trip up to the girl's family's Appalachian home just to give the girl a dress. The girl is buoyant because, ever since she worked for the lady, she has fantasized about owning the lady's "pink party dress."

I regret to say that I can still remember the show's theme, which the girl sings rhapsodically to her uncaring brother before the rich lady arrives:

In a pink party dress
Any girl could feel purty and proud
Just a pink party dress
Like a far-away little pink cloud

The rest of the verse has mercifully escaped me, but the bridge remains:

The party'd be lit up by candles
The floors and the table would shine.
And everything I'd ever wanted would be mine!

The girl's brother attempts to tear down her fantasy by telling her that she is doomed to a life of hardship. He gets to sing the comedy tune "Womenfolk Work for Menfolk." I can remember only the ending:

BROTHER: Womenfolk work for menfolk, while the menfolk take their —

SISTER: And the gals forsake their —

BOTH: While the menfolk take their ease!

It's after that number that the rich lady hits the scene to provide the deus ex machina. She makes a bit of small talk and attempts to hide her disgust as the mountain girl's widowed mother offers her snuff. Finally — and you can feel the mountain girl's suspense — Rich Lady opens the dress box she's brought, revealing a garment that looks like a potato sack.

Rich Lady leaves, the mother tells the mountain girl to buck up, the brother goes "ha, ha," or something, and the mountain girl is left to sing a mournful reprise of "Pink Party Dress" in half-time before running off the stage crying. The End.

Your turn!