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Pippin: How to grow up

This is the fourth installment of a series, Learning from Musicals.

I learned other important teenage lessons from Pippin. The first is not to listen to songs from musicals out of context.

We performed a few songs from Pippin as one of the opening acts before Dames at Sea in 1978. We couldn’t do the musical in its 1970s incarnation in its entirety. Graphic violence, nudity, orgies, and patricide (doubling as regicide) weren’t suitable for a high school stage, especially with our very Mormon music teacher. From the sanitized packages of Stephen Schwartz we performed, I developed a love for “Corner of the Sky.” It seemed like the perfect anthem for a teenage boy, especially one adrift in an innocent and idealistic bubble like me.

When Pippin played at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in LA, I begged my mom to take me. That’s when I learned my second and most important lesson.

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Plain and Fancy: Talent really is a thing

It wonders me how awful a 110 camera can beThis is the third installment of a series, Lessons from Musicals.

It wonders me how I was able to land a spot in Reseda High School’s prestigious Vocal Ensemble. Although I could read music, stay in tune (well, most of the time), and hold my own in harmonies, I clearly wasn’t a star. You could pick me out from the rest of the chorus because my choreography was off from everyone else. I didn’t feel bad about it, because I knew I was in the presence of remarkable performers, including those who went on to successful stage and music careers.

From them, I learned something about talent.

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Tell me your heroes, and you tell me who you are

Cartoon of President Andrew Jackson (from’s take a break from talking about musicals I performed in the 1970s and talk about a president from the 1830s.

What caught my attention about President Trump’s recent interview isn’t his comments about what President Andrew Jackson could have done about the Civil War. (We already know, which I’ll cover in a moment.) It’s that he clearly sees President Jackson as a hero. He paid homage at his grave, and he has Jackson’s portrait hung prominently in the Oval Office.

President Trump’s admiration of Jackson speaks volumes about who he is as a person. And there are lessons for all of us.

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Dames at Sea: The heartbreak behind camp

Dames at Sea, Reseda High School 1978This is the second installment of a series, Lessons from Musicals.

Of my performances in high school, my role as Hennesey in Dames at Sea was the most memorable. Even though I was sheltered and naïve in high school, I sensed there was something somewhat off about Dames. A musical we performed in the 1970s that was written in the 1960s to parody musicals from the 1930s? Although it centered around three heterosexual romances, I could sense there was a gay subtext. Perhaps it was lyrics like these (sung about a guy named Dick): “…my gentle he-man/The man for me man, my first class sea man…” Or maybe it was that Village People song that came out the following year. Dames at Sea was certainly campy.

Therein lies the heartbreak in Dames at Sea.

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Lessons from Musicals: Overture

Reseda Vocal Ensemble 1976-77This is the first installment of a series, Lessons from Musicals.

Forty years ago, I performed in my first high school musical. Actually, we did excerpts from several musicals including Oliver and Plain and Fancy. I went from Mr. Bumble to Papa Yoder and experienced stage makeup for the first time (and the massive amounts of cold cream to take that stuff off).

But my experience with musicals started long before I took the stage at Reseda High School in 1977.

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