Stephenson Tales

How Dude got into Theatre

When I was fifteen and in my first year of high school, I had the title role in an Ann Arbor Children's Theatre production of Aladdin, written and directed by Richard McKelvey, whose day job was as a word researcher in the U of M's project "The Middle English Dictionary."

"Dick" was a creative, complex, lonely bachelor who loved theatre and saw the Children's Theatre as a venue for his love of little kids and for their potential in the theatre. Dick put some incidental songs into his creation - and fortunately his cast was able to perform musically as well as histrionically.

One day he stopped where we were in the rehearsal of the script and said, "I'd love to put in a song at this point - some kind of a show piece for the servant character that has absolutely nothing to do with the plot but will be just for fun. But I'd like a couple of little boys who can sing."

My hand shot up. "I have a little brother who can sing, Mr. McKelvey."

"Well, bring him by tomorrow and let's give him a try-out."

I went home and told my folks about the offer, and so the next day after school I took Dude with me. Dude was only 9 going on 10 and still a boy soprano. I might add, here, that after his voice matured he had one of the sweetest lyric tenors I have ever heard. His clear accurate tone was very similar to the operatic voice of Ferruccio Tagliavini who at that time was singing at the Met!

Mr. McKelvey was charmed, and so he expanded the roles of Mustafa and Krumles (Musty and Krummy!) and they sang, of all things, "Shortnin' Bread" - which certainly had not the remotest connection to the show. Dude was a sensation!

This was started a life in the theatre. He went on to direct the Gilbert and Sullivan Society for nine years at Michigan as well as several all-campus productions (most notably Kismet); for over 40 years doing G&S at the National Music Camp and about 20 original scripts based on a one act written by Percy Fitzgerald (who was the subject of my doctoral dissertation); director (and for a while the reluctant chairman) of the Theatre Department at San Diego State.

As the twig is bent...

Composed 17 November 2008; Transcribed by Lucky

© Jim Bob Stephenson 2008

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