Chuck Morgan taught me the first rule of theater this week. The show — and rehearsal — must go on. Morgan, one of the driving...

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Chuck Morgan taught me the first rule of theater this week. The show — and rehearsal — must go on.

Morgan, one of the driving forces who got the Kirkland Performance Center built, is a townsperson in the upcoming production of “The Music Man.” The 93-year-old former newspaper publisher brings his usual wit and enthusiasm to the project. He’s long been my idol for his writing talents and his ability to bring people of all backgrounds together. Plus Morgan has taken up soft-shoe dancing in the past decade and appeared in a number of local productions.

At Monday’s rehearsal for the musical, Morgan collapsed. Kirkland’s Medic One transported him to Group Health Eastside Hospital, where he spent the night. Knowing Morgan, he probably had all the nurses giggling within the first 10 minutes.

What message did he send back from his hospital bed? He’d be back to rehearsals and the show would go on. He was released from the hospital Tuesday afternoon.

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I’m glad because, frankly, I need his smile and the twinkle in his eyes to help me through this, my maiden venture on stage. When I auditioned, I thought I’d make a good tree. Trees don’t have to sing, dance, walk across the stage or know the green room from the orchestra pit.

There are no tree roles in “The Music Man.”


“The Music Man”


Showtimes: 8 p.m. April 1, 2; 2 p.m. April 3. Kirkland Performance Center, 350 Kirkland Ave., Kirkland.

Tickets: 425-893-9900


Instead I’m a nameless townsperson, a woman excited by the possibility of new dishes. I have a stage husband and two darling stage daughters — all of whom know a lot more about being in a musical production than I do.

My great stage adventure began a few weeks ago when I talked to Lani Brockman. She’s the founding director of Studio East, a theatrical training center in Kirkland. Brockman mentioned “The Music Man” project, a joint venture with the Kirkland Performance Center. I sighed something about always wanting to be in a stage production. She kindly invited me to audition.

At the auditions, they handed me sheet music and expected me to sing. Me? Sing? I do a great rendition of “The Wheels on the Bus” with toddlers and a poignant “Silent Night” during the holidays, but otherwise my singing repertoire includes a one-month stint last century in a church choir and belting out tunes with my car radio.

Then we had to do a few dance steps. Dance? Me? I trip over my own feet while walking the dog.

But I’m a great imitator. I followed what everyone else was doing and apparently my voice didn’t screech too much because a few days later, Stephanie Hippen called me. Hippen, production and box-office manager at the Kirkland Performance Center, offered me a chance to be in the Kirkland All-City “Music Man.”

Wow!

But there’s trouble on the Eastside, my friends. Trouble here starts with S — for Sherry, silly girl. I had no notion of what was involved in a musical production, even for a minor character. (In theater talk I’m a member of the adult ensemble.)

Rehearsals started last month. They often run from 6 to 10 p.m., and the children and teenagers aren’t the only ones yawning halfway through rehearsal. Many of us adults work full time. I now scrunch usual weeknight chores into my weekends. I cut back on my home reading, bridge games, baking and creative writing.

My brain is also on overload. We memorize songs and cues so that we appear on stage at the appropriate moment. Every motion is carefully choreographed and rehearsed. Stand up, sit down, stroll, step like this during one song, hurry, smile, slow down, and don’t turn your back on the house — also known as the audience.

Although I’ve long been an enthusiastic theater patron, I’m now star-struck. Indeed, sometimes I forget to sing or move on cue because I get caught up watching the rehearsal from my vantage point, standing close to the folks who carry the show: the lead actors.

Jon Lutyens of Spokane plays Professor Harold Hill. He sings, he dances and hundreds of lines roll off his tongue on command. Lutyens can be interrupted mid-sentence at any point and five minutes later pick up exactly where he left off. Impressive! It took me two weeks to learn a few song lyrics.

The role of Mrs. Paroo requires an Irish accent from Kim Maguire of Kirkland. Jenny Dreessen of Lynnwood plays a regal Marian Paroo. Stephen Grenley of Seattle blusters perfectly as the pompous Mayor Shinn. Macall Gordon of Woodinville gives a touch of dignity to the comic figure of Eulalie Shinn, the mayor’s wife.

I’m learning, I really am. Thanks to Betty Gibelyou of Kirkland and Ann Guilland of Redmond, two other townswomen, I’m learning the notes to sing. I practice “Music Man” songs while driving to work. And I’m having a ball. This is great fun to stretch, to meet new people of all ages and to learn something new.

Alas, standing through four hours of rehearsals has taken its toll. I wore old shoes a week ago and pulled a muscle in my right foot. I’m limping everywhere I go — except at rehearsals. Good actors, as Morgan says, ignore aches and pains.

They also learn their lines and movements. By opening night on April 1 — an appropriate date considering I may be making a fool of myself here — I will know every word, every stomp, march and hand gesture. I will convince my brain that I’m participating in the show, not there to watch it.

I’m already convinced I make a better townsperson than a tree. I may not be worthy of the name “actor” yet, but like Morgan I’ll be a contributing member of the cast.

May we all break a leg!

Sherry Grindeland: 206-515-5633 or sgrindeland@seattletimes.com