"He's doing it?!?! That's fantastic..."
I said this with raised eyebrows and excitement in my voice.
That's the only way I could react upon hearing that he would be taking the role.
Whenever you're doing a community theatre production, you want three things to happen. You want to work with a fantastic director, a talented cast in a reputable theatre. With this production of You Can't Take It With You, all three were coming together. I was working with a director who I really enjoy working with, the theatre was a place I had wanted to work at for the longest time and my cast mates were wonderfully talented. But with him in the cast? That was the cherry on top of it all.
I had seen him in various performances here and there. He was clearly talented but talent doesn't earn my respect by itself. Now, what I really respected was that he always left it all on the stage, every time. It didn't matter if it was 1776 or A Funny Thing Happened...he gave every audience, everything he had. When you do that, I'm not going to applaud you, I'm going to revere you.
Stepping in for another actor, he showed up to his first rehearsal with 90% of his role memorized. To say I was impressed with that, is an understatement. But his performances, which were great by the way, aren't the reason why I'll remember this man for years to come.
It's because of a warm welcome and Mrs. Lovett.
I was nervous about working in that theatre. I'm not blowing smoke when I say that I felt like I was walking on egg shells the entire time. In the dressing room, his station was right next to mine. I mentioned how nervous I was, and he laughed.
"It's just a building, you know. But we're glad to have you here" and he patted me on the back.
That was the warm welcome I needed to ease my nervousness. During the run, our conversations shifted from sports to film to theatre, he was on top of it all.
I told him how much I enjoyed his Benjamin Franklin portrayal in 1776 and he thanked me for saying that. But he wasn't thanking me for padding his ego, he was genuinely happy that I enjoyed the show. This was another example of the type of guy he is.
Later on, I asked him what his favorite Sondheim musical was. Without missing a beat he said, A Funny Thing Happened..but then he stopped, paused and a smile came over his face.
They say you can tell a lot about a man's character with the way he talks about his family.
"I'd be lying if I said Sweeney wasn't up there." he said with a smile.
I asked why and he said he has just seen his daughter play Mrs. Lovett. He then went into great detail about what he loved about her performance. I asked if he had any other children and he told me about his son and all the wonderful things he was doing as well.
There is nothing better than the look on a parent's face when they're talking about how proud they are of their children and he had pride coming out of his ears. I mentioned how my wife was expecting our first the following May and he gave me some solid advice about the early days of parenting.
The show ended its run and we all went our separate ways. Other than the occasional Facebook comment, we didn't talk much. But months later, I found myself in a bit of a pickle. Without expectation or asking for it, I logged on one day to find an email from him. While I won't share the contents of that email, because I want to keep that private, let's just say he, in his own special way, set me straight. It's rare to meet someone in the theatre community who will be 100% honest with you. As much as I wanted to disagree with him, I knew he was right.
Tonight I'm thinking about him. I'm thinking about the advice he gave me, the great conversations we had in that dressing room and how I wish I could work with him again.
So the next time you're on stage, give it everything you've got because he would have.
If you're working with someone for the first time, welcome them with a handshake and a smile because he did.
If you have kids, talk about them every day to someone, because he adored his own.
And make it a point to make as many friends as you can, because he did and we're all thinking about him tonight.
Thank You, RL.