From the Founders: Of Sisterhood and Song
photographs by Bob Capazzo
February always reminds me of the musical show for children we Grace Notes put on at Greenwich Library for years—eight performances just before public school break. It was our valentine to the kids of Greenwich.
It started as a Christmas show in December 1969. We pulled out all stops with a live baby Jesus (never mind if he was a girl), a friendly if heavy-hoofed donkey and a small sheep meant to be a lamb. None of us will forget Meriwether Schmid done up as Joseph with her dustpan sweeping up behind Lamb Chop in the lobby (“the job of the president,” said she); and shepherdess Nancy Chadwick staggering down the aisle with him in her arms bleating to the exact beat of the “Little Drummer Boy” song.
Then it became too much for the exhausted moms in the cast of thirty-two and we switched to February. There was a concert grand on stage that we weren’t allowed to move, so we disguised it as a pirate ship, for instance, for Peter Pan, the ever-limber Emily Jones playing the lead.
Other stars included Bea Crumbine as Cinderella, bedazzling little girls in her sparkly ball gown; the versatile Barbara Gallagher as Mary Poppins with cape and umbrella or in fur and whiskers to perform “Stray Cat Strut”; and Anne Low as Jiminy Cricket, Pinocchio’s nagging conscience. Caroline Bonheim still looks like Snow White; and in a sexy long black evening dress (once my mother’s), Mean Queen Joanne Wallace sat at her powder table and brought down the house with lines such as, “Mirror, Mirror, on the table, don’t I look like Betty Grable?” During dress rehearsal, the Grace Note who appeared in a rented apple outfit complete with wiggly worm sticking out of its side drew so many laughs from the cast that she ran up the aisle in tears and we had to coax her back on stage.
As writer and producer of these shows, my ultimate frustration came during Dr. Dolittle when I played one end of the Pushmi-pullyu attached to Susie Morton. Our llama costume was a big fuzzy white bag with our arms inside and our faces peering out of the tall necks. Thus outfitted, I had to confront the guys from Parrot Jungle who thought they might grab a hamburger at McDonald’s in the half hour between performances. Furious but unable to shake a finger at them, I said: “You leave, you’re out of the show! And you can take your cockatoos with you!” (Meanwhile Susie had somehow freed an arm so she could smoke.)
We loved comments from the kids, like the time I invited my hairdresser to bring her little boy. That night the three-year-old took forever putting on his pajamas. “Tommy, for heavens sake, what’s taking you so long?” she asked. “Mommy,” he mused, “have you ever seen a frog play the drums?”
To hype the show and pass the hat, we sang for commuters at the railroad station, some of us in costume. One year Langdon Cook and Mac Rotan teased Libby Flinn, who was dressed as a reindeer: “All you do is just stand there and sing. Don’t you ever take the train?” So Libby jumped aboard Amtrack with them, and rode as far as Port Chester and back again, to be greeted by an indignant director. She had been the only first soprano.
The Grace Notes aren’t doing children’s shows anymore, but they are continuing to do wonderful therapeutic work in our community and, of course, still have hilarious things happen. To wit: Performing “You Got to Have a Gimmick” at the First Congregational Church, the horns of Alice Sorensen’s Viking helmet got stuck in the Mylar curtain behind her, and everywhere she danced, the curtain came with her.
And the Grace Notes are still involved in Spring Sing the first weekend in May, when groups from all over the country congregate for an orgy of song—like the Denver Wizard Oils, Proper Bostonians, Suburban Squires from Philadelphia and Private Parts from Princeton, singing songs like “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” and “It’s Hard to Kill a Fox in Fairfield County (Where in Bridgeport High Can You Learn the Hunting Horn?).” The Grace Notes were the first women to be included.
When we hosted the event here in the seventies, one of the Augmented Eight called chairman Libby Flinn from Washington that Sunday before Spring Sing weekend, and one of her young sons, fed up with phone calls, told him: “Mommy’s in the bathtub and won’t be out ’til Friday!”
That was the year our husbands decided to get into the act and lead “I Found Love,” a Spring Sing theme song. Dubbing themselves the Gross Nuts, they rehearsed like crazy, but entering the Stamford hotel dining room, Peter Littlefield fell down, taking others with him. Then they started in a key so high nobody could join in and save them from themselves.
Nonetheless, the weekend was a great success and Sunday dawned a bright sunny day for our farewell brunch at Riverside Yacht Club. As the Detroit Grunyons boarded a bus to LaGuardia, I waved goodbye saying “God was really good to us today!” And Phil Skillman, famed for his rendition of “Freddie Feel-Good and his Funky Little Five Piece Band,” shouted back: “Yes, She was, wasn’t She?!”
Now that’s success!