Monday, March 17, 2008

Curtain call

Wow, I can't believe it's over. I figured up in the car last night on the way home that High School Musical took a good 30+ hours of my time last week, either in driving or waiting or (best of all!) playing chaperone backstage. Seeing how much fun Annabelle had with it made every last second totally worthwhile though!

Yesterday when we arrived for the matinee performance, there was a woman sitting in the breakroom knitting, and you know I can't resist chatting up a fellow knitter! It turned out that she was Denise Nolin, the understudy for "Ms. Darbus" and the cast member Annabelle had mentioned the other day as being so friendly and talking to the pep squad kids about her experiences in theater. She was very nice, and it was such fun talking to her!

After the show we stopped at the stage door for more photos and more signatures for her friend's poster:

We had several hours to kill between shows, so we crossed the bridge into Indiana, and I surprised Annabelle with a trip to IHOP. That might sound strange, but IHOP is a really big deal for us, especially since we don't have one anywhere close by. Every time I drive past the new Waffle House in Radcliffe, I give a bitter sigh and demand: "Why couldn't you have been an IHOP?!" We also wandered the mall for a while and then wound up stopping by Target for drinks and magazines, which we enjoyed in the Target parking lot for that final hour of free time.

When we arrived for the final performance, we heard the cast in another room singing the best version of "Happy Birthday" that I've ever heard. The birthday girl turned out to be the new understudy for "Sharpay." She brought cake out to the bleacher creatures and graciously posed for a photo:

At the matinee, Annabelle had been on the bleachers that were on the same side of the stage as my fellow chaperone and I. As a result, I couldn't really see her except for an occasional glimpse. For the closing show, however, she was across the stage from me, and I couldn't take my eyes off of her. She was having the time of her life!

As the cast cleared the stage, I handed jackets, purses, and cell phones back to all the pep squad members. This put me at the tail end of the crowd backstage and separated me from Annabelle. As I was walking down the hall, I ran into Shaullanda Lacombe, who played "Taylor." I explained to her that Annabelle had been collecting autographs all week on a poster for a friend and that hers was one of the few she hadn't been able to get. I pulled out the poster and pen and asked if she would be willing to sign. Her response: "I'm honored to be asked!" and she very neatly signed her name and a personal inscription.

I caught up to Annabelle, who was saying goodbye to Denise, and told her that I had gotten "Taylor" to sign the poster. She was thrilled but pointed out that we still hadn't gotten "James" (of the most epic earthworm imitation ever) to sign. I said something like, "Well, you can't have everything," but Denise said, "You want James?! Stay right here."

She marched over to a nearby door, knocked firmly, announced "Woman coming in!" and went through. She returned and told us that "James" would be right out. Sure enough, within a couple of minutes Dante Russo emerged. He signed her poster and posed for a picture:

As Annabelle's souvenir t-shirt says, we do indeed heart Earthworm!

We loitered at the stage door one last time to say goodbye to everybody. As we were standing there, a little girl from the audience recognized Annabelle from the bleacher scene and asked her to sign her Playbill! I thought Annabelle was going to pass out from the thrill. I sure hope that kid saves that Playbill. It's going to be worth big bucks one day:

On our way to the parking garage, we chatted with a couple of the cast members:

Derek Ferguson, on the right, told Annabelle that he had no voice that day but still had to step up and play "Zeke" when a backstage injury lead to a little last-minute shuffling among castmembers. She assured him that he had been fabulous and that she never would have known if he hadn't said anything.

As always, the drive home was marked by Annabelle's glowing reports. This time was a little bittersweet though, knowing that it was the last time. She said then as she has said a couple times before that when she first found out about this opportunity, her main excitement had been over being able to put this on her resume. As it turns out though, that was a minor part of all the benefits. She knows now what it feels like to be under the lights in front of a really big audience with a group of people who are 100% professional in everything they do.

I get teary-eyed every time I think about how indebted I feel to the castmembers. We did not come across a single prima donna. There was absolutely nobody who was too busy or too important to stop to chat or to pose for a photo. Annabelle just about keeled over when I told her about Ms. Lacombe's response to my request for a signature: "I'm honored to be asked."

"She's honored to be ASKED?!" Annabelle shrieked when I told her in the car. "She's on her SECOND national tour, and SHE is honored to be ASKED to sign my poster?!" That just blew her mind. The entire cast and crew couldn't have provided her with a better experience or been better role models for an aspiring actress, and for that I can't thank them enough.

When we got home, Annabelle added her signature to Diamond's poster and packed it up to take with her to school today:

She said that yesterday was the best day of the best week ever. I count myself as lucky that she didn't try to stow away on the bus to Indianapolis, the tour's next stop. I also have to confess though that if she had, I'd have gone with her. She can sing her heart out on stages across America, and I . . . I shall hold the coats. Anything for show business!

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