Tuesday, December 12, 2006


It goes without saying that this time of year brings back holiday memories.

One of my favorites is thinking about my brother Matt’s performance in Helena, Montana’s Grand Street Theater’s production of Amahl and the Night Visitors when he was about 9 or 10 years old.

Amahl and the Night Visitors is one of the sweetest stories ever. It’s a short opera, only one hour in length, composed by Gian Carlo Menotti, and the score contains some of the most beautiful music you will ever hear. I am no great fan of opera, but this little one-act piece is wonderful – it’s funny, a little bit sad, and sweetly tender.

Oh here…let me tell you about it!

Basically, this is the story of a young shepherd boy and his destitute mother who live a poor life somewhere near Bethlehem. Through a funny series of events as Amahl is accused of lying about seeing an enormous star in the sky, there is a knock on the door and it is the three wise men following the star to Bethlehem to see the baby Jesus. The mother is shocked beyond belief. The three kings need to rest for a little while before continuing their journey. From there the story unfolds with funny scenes of the village people (including the cop and the Indian – HA!) coming over because they don’t believe that kings are in Ahmal’s house.

Amahl is crippled and the heart of the story is when, through his faith in what the kings are telling him, he offers his cane to them to take to the baby Jesus, and that unselfish act cures him. HE WALKS….HE WALKS…. HE WALKS (oh, if you could just hear the big, fabulous music in my head as I’m singing HE WALKS…). In the end, Amahl and his mother sing the most beautiful duet that has ever been written (if it doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, you’re not human) and they decide that Amahl can go with the kings and deliver his crutch to Jesus himself. Oh my gosh, it’s the story of how faith, charity, unselfish love and good deeds can work miracles! Miracles, I tell you!

Grand Street Theater is a fabulous community theater in Helena, Montana. People seem surprised when I tell them about Helena’s artistic community. It was thriving when we lived there. Thriving with top-quality artists who had trained and performed all over the world. There was something attractive about the “artistic compound” that was Helena that kept vibrant theater, choirs, symphonies, orchestras and other ensembles beating at the heart of the town’s social scene.

Matt was such a cute kid at that age and very talented. Mrs. Luebeck encouraged mom and dad to have him audition for the part of Amahl and he won the part over some of those kids who had been doing theater their whole young lives. This was Matt’s first role and he was perfect. His voice – and the voices of most all little boys before they break – was so clear and sweet that it would break your heart. Matt lived his normal, school-going little boy life by day, and by night he and mom would go to the theater for rehearsals and then a 6-week, or so, run of the show. That’s a lot for a kid so young. But he was great and that whole cast brought the house down every night.

I was a bit of a hanger-on and liked to go back stage with mom and Matt to see what was going on. Most of the cast were nice people, some were definitely free spirits, some were freaky, but most were artists and this was their gig.

One guy in particular, one of the kings, seemed to like me a lot. He was really, really tall and fairly young – maybe just recently out of college – and had a beautiful voice. I would always get uncomfortable around him because I noticed he was always seeking me out, he would stand a little too close, ask me if I was going to be at the cast party after the show, and that kind of thing. I would always get flustered, shy away and get out of those situations quickly because *giggle* he was a BOY and I wasn’t very confident when it came to talking to BOYS.

Little did I know he was flirting with me. I was too young and too stupid to understand anything about that, but this guy must have thought I was just being coy because he kept at it. Then, as chance would have it, one week day during the run of Amahl, my little school choir went to sing our Christmas show at the bank downtown and wouldn’t you know it, “the king” happened to be in the lobby. I gave him a little smile and a wave and he gave me a smile and wave and he got real close to the risers to listen.

Everything seemed fine until we were introduced as the Helena Jr. High Choir. It was then I noticed a look of concern crossing his face that quickly turned to panic. When we were finished singing, he came running up to me and didn’t say “hi” or “good job” or anything – he just blurted out, “How old are you, anyway?” When I said, “12”, the poor guy turned completely ashen and I thought he was going to faint. Hey – it’s not my fault that I was 6’ tall and had boobs when I was 12. It was his fault for assuming I was older!

From that point forward that poor guy ignored me like the plague at the Amahl performances. Don’t you know how mortified and pervy he must have felt when he realized he was flirting with a 12-year old?

One post script to the Amahl story always makes me laugh. They took a bunch of publicity photos of Matt in character and the folks kept one of the LIFE SIZED photos of Matt hobbling on his crutch. It was a very good picture but kind of funny to have this 5’ cardboard Amahl in the basement. One night some time later, we thought our house was burning down (a story for another time). Dad was gone so it was just mom, Matt and me. Mom started barking out orders for us to get out of the house and we snapped to it. And the ONLY things that mom grabbed before running out of the house was a photo album that was under the coffee table and the life-sized picture of Matt as Amahl. I can only imagine what the volunteer firemen thought when they pulled up into the driveway.

Anyway…if you ever have the chance to see Amahl and the Night Visitors do yourself a favor and give it an hour of your time.


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