On a ‘Show Boat’ to Alaska
August 31, 2018
"Ron, you would be perfect for the job. They want someone to choreograph a Revue and direct Show Boat at the A-67 Centennial in Fairbanks, Alaska. The pay is terrific and I know it will cover your expenses for Orllyene and the kids. I'll set up a meeting with Carlos Nobel. He's the producer." This is how my good friend Chuck Dodds, sets up my Alaskan adventure. Chuck is a 6-foot, 2-inch blond, amazingly handsome and stops the show whenever he is on stage.
One flaw in the plan. I am already the choreographer for an organization, but we're not busy at the moment and am given a three-month hiatus.
We travel on the Inland Waterway Ferry. It's like a "bring your own lunch cruise ship." The scenic isolation is magnificent. We spot eagles ripping fish right out of the water, breaching whales, and scores of sea birds. In Sitka, massive mountains careen right down to the water's edge. I vow to comeback someday.
Fairbanks is a frontier town. We are given a rusty car to drive and a rustic apartment to live in. Orllyene immediately puts foil over the kid's bedroom windows, because the sun never sleeps in Fairbanks. We plant radishes, lettuce and carrots, to see how fast things will grow. On our day off we drive to Fox, a town so small, on one side of the highway sign it reads "Welcome to Fox," and on the other side it says "Leaving Fox." A little further up the highway, we hear the slap of a beaver's tail, giving a foraging moose fair warning that this is his pond.
University students are the cast for the show and rehearsals begin immediately. I pick the theme music from "Bonanza," a popular television show as the opening number music. The male dancers do a lot of foot stompin' and the gals dip, twirl, and throw their skirts around. It's a make-believe hoedown. Alaska Airlines likes the Revue so much they decide they want the cast to do a dance on the wings of one of their planes and a commercial is shot.
After a month, we have a big cast party. It's then I realize that I'm supposed to direct "Show Boat." I completely blocked "Show Boat" out of my mind. I have never directed a musical in my life. I'm a dancer, a choreographer, not a director. I wouldn't know where to begin. I go to Carlos. "Let me see what I can do. I'll call the actor who is going to be Captain Andy in the show." Lo and behold, the actor tells Carlos he has directed "Show Boat." in summer stock many times and will be happy to be the new director, for a modest increase in salary, of course. Bingo! I'm free!
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In my younger years, I often didn't really think my decisions through, and made some really terrible mistakes, but this one seems to have worked out splendidly.
Ron Walker can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.