Monday, May 7, 2012

My Operatic Career, Part 1

While in Watervliet High School I performed in several musicals including three Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, "The Gondoliers," "The Mikado," and "Iolanthe." In my senior year we did a hokey musical I think was called "Hollywood Bound." Earlier in junior high or sixth grade I vaguely remember being in a minstrel show, complete with burnt cork makeup and fake Negro accents. That I remember so little of it may be the result of a subconcious guilt at being involved with something so politically incorrect by today's standards. 

I sang the baritone lead in all three Gilbert & Sullivan operettas and the hokey "Hollywood Bound." That was the result of kind of a fluke. My freshman year for "The Gondoliers" I was the understudy to upperclassman George Keiger for the part of the Duke of Plaza Toro, not expecting do do anything except sing in the chorus. But George came down with scarlet fever, thus thrusting me into the comic baritone lead of the Duke. I did such a good job that I was ever after the automatic choice for the baritone lead every year.

Here is the Watervliet Record write up about me in that role: 

"James Woodruff will sing the baritone role of the impoverished but gay Duke of Plaza-Toro, [gay didn't mean in those days what it does now] a Grandee of Spain, and is expected to gain the favor of the audience from the start with his interpretation of this difficult but interesting role. He is one of the youngest members of the Glee Club, this being his first year with the organization, but his keen appreciation of subtle wit, together with his capacity for hard work and his newly developed voice are all factors which point to success for him". 

The News Palladium said: "James Woodruff carried the honors as a character actor in his role of the Duke."

Author (L) with fellow cast members
The contralto lead, the Duchess of Plaza Toro, was played by Viginia Keefer. The tenor and soprano romantic leads were played by Pete Yancich as Luiz, my attendant, and Betty Geisler as Casilda, the daughter of the Duke and Duchess. Ed Hawks was the Grand Inquisitor. Ken Shimer, Bob Curtis, Ferris Norman, Warren Willmeng, and Leonard Krall were Gondoliers. The Venetian Maidens were played by Lydia Pitcher, Lois Doolittle, Darlene Selters, Helen Curtis and Isabella Crumb. In all, there were 79 students in the cast.

All of these shows were chosen and directed by Mildred Shelters, the school's excellent music teacher and the wife of Superintendent "Buck" Shelters. Marion Scherer accompanied us on the piano.

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