Well, I will admit that “The Last High School Musical” may be a bit over dramatic a title for this blog, but it definitely encapsulates how I feel. From the moment we begin to read on Facebook about the fall musical at Freeport High School, Gerald and I began to feel nostalgic and sad and proud and excited all mixed together. I am usually the one most interested in theater, but Gerald beat me in saying we must go up to see Cecelie in this show. She is our youngest grandchild and the third of the Eiler kids, who we have seen perform so many times in plays, musicals, and shows of all sorts. Now that Cecelie is a senior, we are facing the fact that that part of our lives is over; and it is a bit overwhelming emotionally. So we were sadly excited but happily anticipating seeing her as Aquata, one of the mersisters (princesses) in The Little Mermaid.
As it turned out, this musical production was pretty dramatic and not just for us. On Monday night at rehearsal, Brynn Schiffman, who played the lead mermaid Ariel, had a serious accident on stage and ended up with a severe knee injury. Suddenly everything was up in the air. What to do? Would they cancel the show with tickets already sold? Jeannie texted me, and I felt sick at heart for what this young woman had happen to her just two nights before all her six weeks of hard work were supposed to be rewarded and enjoyed by the community. I felt enormous sympathy for what director Tim Connors must be going through. And then complete disbelief when Jeannie said maybe Cecelie would be doing the Thursday night show so that Brynn could heal for the later performances. What? Two days to learn an entirely new part: songs, dances, lines?
But that is what happened. The other five mersisters would absorb Cecelie's lines, and she would play Ariel for the Thursday night performance, so Brynn could heal enough to get doctor's permission to perform Friday and Saturday, which she did beautifully. Cecelie was excused from her Tuesday classes and half of Wednesday's, and Connors and the vocal director and the choreographer and others pitched in to give her six weeks of rehearsals in two days. The show must go on, and it did! (This sort of group endeavor and determination and insistence on “making it work” is one of the many values of theater for high school students.)
It helped that in part of the story, Ariel could not talk because of the evil sister's curse. During that time when Ariel's song was just supposed to be her thoughts, Brynn actually sang it off stage and that was one less song Cecelie had to learn. But Cecelie was superb, and there was not a hitch that I could tell.
It was not until we were in the back-stage hallway with a large part of the audience crowding in to congratulate the cast that I heard Cecelie coughing and coughing while she held a bag of cough drops as the clutched her bouquets in the other arm. Somehow on stage, she had carried on, and I did not detect this awful cold. Her mother had had her to the doctor, who said it was just one of the coughs going around town that would last four weeks. She was sent home to treat herself with over-the-counter meds. I imagine the doctor told her to get a lot of rest. Ha.
The next night we got to hear Brynn's beautiful voice, and she somehow danced well with her knee brace despite what I imagine was considerable pain. Cecelie was also terrific as Aquata, and we were thrilled to see her in both her roles. I must say she made a beautiful mermaid both nights. I'd have liked to stay for the Saturday matinee and night performance, but we needed to get home, and we wanted to stop at my brother's home on the way back to Southern Illinois.
Jeannie was swamped with Veterans Day observances at both her elementary schools, where she needed to hang art work for the crowds coming to those two programs. On Thursday, she went from hanging art for the public to see and on to a baby shower in a nearby town and then made it to the Thursday night performance.
She invited us to hang out with her kindergarten students Friday morning, but Gerald planned to shop at a big rural store there, and I like to sleep and lounge and read in the mornings. Because Chicago schools were closed on Veterans Day, Elijah had driven in late Thursday night, so we were able to see him and Rick at Culvers for lunch across the street from our motel.
Jeannie explained the Friday afternoon programs were so close together in time and the two schools so far apart that we could only go to one. Fortunately we got there early as cars lined the streets, and Gerald had to find a place less obvious to park. The little gym required lots of walking down halls and stairways, and we were among the last to find a seat. Parents and grandparents and veterans kept coming and stood lining the walls. We have observed how great Freeport people support their students. The Jeannette Lloyd Theatre at the high school is usually packed, and these veteran programs were also. Jeannie couldn't even get in after rushing from the other school, but we met up afterwards.
By this time, we realized that Jeannie too had that awful cough making her even more exhausted as she rushed from one duty to the next. And the almost funny part (because it is so typical in the life of parents of high schoolers) is that Cecelie had reminded at the last minute that Jeannie had said if no one else had the cast party, they could have it at their house after the final Saturday show. So Rick had shampooed the carpets, and I imagine Jeannie spent Saturday shopping and cooking for the party.
The Little Mermaid is the second Disney classic in a row that director Tim Connors choose to produce. Little girls like to come to the shows dressed in their princess outfits. This year the mermaids wore long wigs with curls down to their waists, and they were lovely. The large all-school cast gives so many students theatrical experience and life-long memories. The pit orchestra is always excellent, and colorful costumes and sophisticated props are always visually delightful.
Last fall we attended Beauty and the Beast when Cecelie had the lead and we saw our blonde granddaughter become a brunette to be Belle, and she kept that hair color through the school year and summer. Right before we left to go upstate, I had some odd shoulder pains, but very few. I saw my doctor, and I was determined to use the tickets we'd ordered. Every thing went fine. Gerald went home Saturday morning, but I stayed through all the performances and rode home with Cecelie's big sister Leslie and and husband Mike. In fact, they came over to our hotel the last night to avoid sleep deprivation by all the noise at the Eiler household where last year's cast party lasted till 3 a.m. before the last stragglers left. That night was when I had longer and harder shoulder pain, and I kept thinking I really did not want to ruin Mike and Leslie's plan for a good night's sleep by asking them to take me to the emergency room. So I went back to sleep. I went to the heart doctor when I got back home, and two stints solved that problem.
This year Mike was on duty with the police force, so Leslie was thinking she would go upstate with us. She was more than a little perturbed when she realized that the Christmas show tour she auditioned for started rehearsals the same weekend as Cecelie's show. She will be singing on this tour in Georgia and Minnesota and I do not know where else, but unfortunately not in Southern Illinois. I will have to enjoy her performances vicariously just knowing she is doing what she loves to do and hearing about it later.. And while I grieve a bit over The Last High School Musical, I will also enjoy the many memories and know there will always be other events and highlights that come with having nine grandchildren.